HILLARY CLINTON made headlines earlier this week when she compared President George W. Bush to Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman, the gap-toothed, freckle-faced mascot whose signature statement is "What, me worry?" As political put-downs go, this hardly ranks as the most egregious, even in the modern era of politics. Fellow Democratic Senator Harry Reid called Bush both a liar and a loser earlier this year, and later only grudgingly offered to retract the latter. The American left, exemplified by MoveOn.org, has compared Bush to Adolf Hitler--unfavorably. Howard Dean has spent his entire term as Democratic party chairman issuing insults to and about Republicans, explicitly declaring that they have never done an honest day's work in their lives and that the GOP is entirely comprised of unfriendly white Christians. Even as an insult to Bush's physical looks, Sen. Clinton's comparison pales to the usual references to chimpanzees that the Left has beaten to death.
Still, the Mad magazine comparison is significant and revealing. I grew up reading Mad, with its iconoclastic attitude and broad-based satirical outlook. The magazine existed in part to challenge authority and to skewer the self-righteous. Year ago, "authority" meant the establishment, mostly conservative, and the magazine's barbs were aimed more at stodgy Republicans than free-wheeling liberals and Democrats. But Mad also regularly scored points against the excesses of the counterculture, too.
In the intervening 30 years, times have changed. Today, cultural orthodoxies mostly come from the liberal establishment, coached along by the powerful media and academic engines that drive our national culture. Any iconoclast worth his salt would take on these pillars of political correctness as well as the mind-numbing sloganeering of their stalwarts.
SENATOR CLINTON'S SPEECH provides its own Mad magazine moments. For instance, in the portion of her speech that made the Alfred E. Neuman comparison, she argued that Bush's tax cuts had damaged the economy. Checking with the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis, however, you find only one quarter during Bush's presidency where the national GDP has registered a decline, and that was in the third quarter of 2001, which included 9/11. In the past two years, GDP growth has not dipped below an annualized rate of 3.3 percent in any one quarter. Five of the eight quarters had better than 4 percent growth. At the same time, prices have only increased by 3 percent in one of those quarters, meaning that real growth has taken place since Bush got his economic plan through Congress.
If that's damage, no wonder Alfred E. doesn't worry.
Hillary wasn't done giving us her mad moments in her Aspen Ideas Festival speech (and don't think Mad wouldn't have a field day with the concept of an Ideas Festival, either). Later in her remarks, she delivered this eye-popping economic analysis for the Colorado audience: "Ours will be the last generation to rely so exclusively on fossil fuels." She added that the "ups and downs of the global oil market cost the U.S. economy $7 trillion last year . . . almost enough to pay off our entire national debt."
Seven trillion dollars? That would surprise most economists, as well as Mad magazine readers who learned both to question authority and check sources, since the entire American GDP for 2004 amounted to $11.735 trillion according to the BEA; $1.5 trillion came from imports of goods. Energy goods (both domestic and imported) only accounted for $250 billion, making it extremely unlikely that price fluctuations in a single import commodity market could have generated anywhere near the kind of economic damage Senator Clinton cited.
And yet a sitting senator and presumptive candidate for the presidency makes these strange assertions without criticism from the establishment press. The only coverage her speech received resulted from her coarse and personal attack on President Bush, which the media seemed eager to pass to its readers. Obviously, our national media's editors did not read Mad magazine well enough during their formative years to recognize patent demagoguery when they report it.
Perhaps Bush bears some passing physical resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman. However, the Democrats and the American left come closest to resembling the clueless targets of Mad's satirical darts of days gone by.
Edward Morrissey is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Captain's Quarters.