The Morning Jolt

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The Right Way to Counter James Comey

James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee, June 8, 2017. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)

It gives me no pleasure to slam the folks at the Republican National Committee, but this strikes me as a particularly ineffective way of countering James Comey:

The battle plan against Comey, obtained by CNN, calls for branding the nation’s former top law enforcement official as “Lyin’ Comey” through a website, digital advertising and talking points to be sent to Republicans across the country before his memoir is released next week. The White House signed off on the plan, which is being overseen by the Republican National Committee.

“Comey isn’t credible — just ask Democrats.” The digital ads will show several Democrats calling for Comey’s resignation after he injected himself into the 2016 presidential race, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who is shown saying: “All I can tell you is the FBI Director has no credibility.”

Well, if Maxine Waters says someone has no credibility, that settles it, doesn’t it?

Just about everyone already knows that Pelosi, Schumer, and Waters refused to believe Comey when he criticized Hillary Clinton, but will believe everything he says when he criticizes President Trump. Yes, Democrats are flip-flopping hypocrites, we know. The RNC is coming across the same way by approvingly citing Pelosi, Schumer, and Waters.

A much more effective way to counter Comey would be to quote the criticisms coming from former agents. “Smug.” “Diminishing the FBI.” “Crossed the line.” “He put the agency and himself directly in the spotlight, not a good place for us ever to be. . . he enjoys the spotlight.” “Incomprehensible” decision-making. “Makes [himself] look better than what actually happened.” “Self-serving, narcissistic.”

Way back in 2004, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth put together a devastating ad that began by quoting John Kerry’s running mate, “If you have any question about what John Kerry is made of, just spend three minutes with the men who served with him.” If you really want to knock Comey’s credibility, why not create a variation of that ad, spending a few minutes with the men who served under him at the bureau?

Grading the Nation’s Governors

The Morning Consult polling firm released its quarterly Governor Approval Rankings, and once again, the top ten most popular governors in America are all Republicans. In fact. . . it’s almost the exact same top ten as last quarter. Congratulations to Governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Kay Ivey of Alabama, Phil Scott of Vermont. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Matt Mead of Wyoming, Gary Herbert of Utah, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. Greg Abbott of Texas, in the top ten last quarter, “plummeted” all the way to No. 14 . . . with a 56 percent approval rating.

(Once again, I notice that the most popular governors in America are little-known outside their states, and keeping their heads down, focused on running state governments — the workhorses, not the show horses.)

In fact, you have to go all the way down to No. 15 in the approval rankings to find a Democratic governor, Montana’s Steve Bullock. He’s tied with Florida’s Rick Scott, who’s aiming to win a Senate seat this year.

Good luck, Maryland Democrats. Hogan is sitting pretty with a 68 percent approval rating.

Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy, who once called National Review “a right-wing tea bag organization,” is the country’s least popular governor with a 21 percent approval rating and an astounding 72 percent disapproval rating. It’s fitting, since Malloy sneered that label of National Review after we called Malloy the worst governor in the United States. Hey, go figure: Connecticut voters see we were right all along.

But Republicans have a few reasons to be nervous. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker is at a 43 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval.

The Problem with Apu Is Addressed Well By the Solution That Is Pradheep

Pradheep J. Shanker, a radiologist who focuses on health policy and a longtime reader, has a terrific piece on NRO about the muttered complaints around The Simpsons character, Apu the convenience-store owner.

A moderately well-known South Asian standup comic, Hari Kondabolu, late last year produced a documentary called The Problem with Apu. Kondabolu both praises the character, for providing him with the basis for Indian-based humor as a child, and chastises the same for the racial stereotypes that he feels it propagated and for greater prejudice that it promoted in our society.

Kondabolu’s complaints are not without some basis. Indian Americans were virtually unrepresented in American media well into the 1990s. I myself, growing up in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio, thirsted for Indians in American culture I could look up to as models to emulate. In many ways, Apu was American society’s introduction to Indian culture.

That said, Kondabolu’s tirade largely runs off the tracks as he blames the Apu character for all sorts of slights and insults during his career: “Apu was the only Indian we had on TV at all so I was happy for any representation as a kid. . . . He’s funny, but that doesn’t mean this representation is accurate or right or righteous. It gets to the insidiousness of racism, though, because you don’t even notice it when it’s right in front of you.”

I’ve been thinking about this on and off since I heard about the documentary. The Simpsons doesn’t need to change or apologize for much, but it never hurts to try some empathy and look at the world through the eyes of someone else. It’s not succumbing to political correctness to acknowledge that Hollywood wasn’t very diverse until the 1990s at the earliest, and it’s extremely easy to understand why some folks would grow irritated with stereotypes on the big and small screen. Or perhaps it’s the lack of many characters and roles beyond the stereotype that irked members of minority groups even more than the stereotype.

For example, you probably don’t know the name Al Leong, but you probably know his face. He’s an actor/stuntman who’s played a lot of henchmen over the years — from The A-Team and MacGuyver to Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and The Last Action Hero. Perhaps his biggest role was as Genghis Khan in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Yes, it’s natural that when you’re trained as a stuntman, you’re going to get cast in a lot of action movies and get knocked around, but one wonders if he ever got tired of playing roles like “Chinese Gunman Number 9”  and wanted to play an accountant or a lawyer or something.

Thankfully, there are more Indian Americans working regularly in Hollywood today — Kal Penn, Mindy Kaling, the luminous Priyanka Chopra. Prime-time television’s had quite a few regular Indian-American actors, even if they’re not always playing Indian-American characters: Naveen Andrews on Lost, Sendhil Ramamurthy on Heroes, Archie Panjabi on The Good Wife, Indira Varma on Game of Thrones, Dev Patel on The Newsroom, Kunal Nayyar on The Big Bang Theory. If you’re an aspiring Indian-American actor, you probably feel like you’ve got a shot at playing something besides a convenience-store owner someday.

It’s good to acknowledge that for a long time, a lot of Hollywood’s movies and television shows relied on stereotypes and tropes, and some cultures were almost ignored entirely. (When I was in Turkey, I came across someone who wrote that the appearance of Ataturk in an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was the most important exposure Americans ever had to a Turkish character on television. That episode aired once, in July 1993.)

But then again, we’ve heard a lot of bad things about Hollywood in the past year.

The Simpsons isn’t responsible for every nasty slur or insult hurled an Indian Americans over the past 30 years. (To say nothing of the implausible contention that the show is some sort of disguised vehicle for white supremacy, when most of the characters are bright yellow. I know, I know, that joke comes from a jaundiced perspective.) But its vision of generic small-town America stems from the late 1980s television world, and if someone started a similar show today, they would probably see a more diverse cast of characters, and one less reliant on stereotypes.

ADDENDA: This morning I joined Tony Katz of WIBC in Indianapolis to discuss the darkening outlook for the Republicans in the midterms. You can listen here.

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