Opinion

Why the ‘Obama eats dogs’ meme has (four) legs

Twitter moves far faster than any person can read. Thousands of new tweets appear every second, so most of what is posted just goes by in a blur. Hash tags come and go on a daily basis, rarely lasting more than a few hours before people move on. Most of what’s written on Twitter you will never see, and much of what you do see will be forgotten in a few hours. So it’s no wonder that liberals like Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews are at a loss to explain the staying power enjoyed by tags like #ObamaEatsDogs, #ObamaDogRecipes and #PrayForBo.

So here’s a quick primer on why this particular bit of comedy has managed to hang on: It’s about satire, stupid.

If Mitt Romney had admitted eating a dog, the first 10 minutes of “Saturday Night Live” would feature the presidential contender trolling a pet shop, pushing a grocery cart, looking for a meal. There’s no reason to doubt this. SNL has been merciless toward Romney, featuring him in almost weekly segments for the last several months. They’ve attacked his wealth, his kids — his very “normalness” — over and over again.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

For the past 40 years, this was the show’s M.O. Every sitting president enjoyed the scrutiny of Lorne Michaels’ late-night creation. Sketches skewered Reagan’s confusion, Bush senior’s “Thousand Points of Light,” Ford’s clumsiness and Bill Clinton’s love of women and McDonald’s. Who can forget Janet Reno’s dance party? These moments became part of the national political discourse, due to sketches that dared to take on the political elite regardless of party affiliation.

This all changed during the George W. Bush administration. The comedy became sharper, meaner, more hostile and completely one-sided. Left-wing targets were suddenly off limits, as the show veered away from satire into propaganda. Now, the SNL cast is so cow-towed that it barely ever bothers to feature Barack Obama. On the rare occasions it does, he’s always portrayed in the best possible light. Obama is merely a decent man beset by headaches, having to deal with problems like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and foolish Americans who “just don’t get it.”

Similarly, “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” America’s two other “bastions” of comedy, are towing the same company line. Since all three programs feature cast members and head writers who support, donate or contribute directly to the Obama administration, no one should be surprised. Still, it’s a cowardly slap in the face to the decades of political satire and dissent which these shows claim to hold so sacred.

Late-night talk show hosts like David Letterman and Jay Leno will occasionally take a half-hearted stab at the president, but again, it’s generally good-natured ribbing. They deliver nothing like the knockout punches endured by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Since America’s more famous satirists are unwilling to do their alleged jobs, Twitter has stepped up to fill the void. While Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert struggle to attain ratings comparable to those enjoyed by reruns of “Two and a Half Men” and “American Pickers,” the Internet is positively bursting with people willing to show them how it’s done.