White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made his satirical debut on Saturday Night Live this weekend. President Lyndon B. Johnson might have some advice.
“IT IS PART OF THE PRICE OF LEADERSHIP OF THIS GREAT AND FREE NATION, TO BE THE TARGET OF CLEVER SATIRISTS.”
On the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, President Johnson was a target of frequent and, at times, more bitter than funny satire. So, when Tom and Dick Smothers received a letter from LBJ himself, they were more than a little surprised. “It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation,” Johnson wrote, “to be the target of clever satirists.”
In full disclosure, Sean Spicer is a friend of mine. He ranks among the smartest communications professionals with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. Melissa McCarthy’s send up of Sean bears little resemblance to the man I know. Or, for that matter, the man Americans see standing at the White House podium most days.
McCarthy’s approach to Spicer is notable not for the accuracy of its mimicry, but for the depth of its absurdity. That Sean Spicer, a patriot and man’s man who has long balanced a career at the highest levels of Washington with service in the U.S. Naval Reserve would be played by a woman is the pinnacle of absurdist shtick.
McCarthy’s gum chewing, super-soaker wielding, insult hurling, intemperate and utterly ludicrous White House Press Secretary is a cartoon character. Like the mischievous goof-ball elementary school student George Bush of the Comedy Central series “Lil Bush,” McCarty’s Spicer is a satire rooted in fanciful ridiculousness.
The Real Sean Spicer
The real Sean Spicer is a talented communicator and a gifted strategist. While I am not privy to the internal deliberations of the White House, I am more than confident that Sean is a consistent source of wise counsel to President Trump.
Sean Spicer has perhaps the hardest job in America. Each briefing he walks before an especially hostile press corps, all of whom Twitter apps at the ready to greet the slightest stumble with outrage, indignation and ruthless snark.
The job of any press secretary requires courage and nerves of steel. Sean Spicer faces a more oppositional press corps, often with a more difficult brief, than most of his predecessors. For him, this goes doubly. It is a tradition of White House press secretaries to pass down a flack jacket to their successor. Spicer’s predecessor, Josh Earnest, might have done well to have left him one of those bomb suits from the Hurt Locker.
It is the press secretary’s job to represent the White House’s point of view. Sean Spicer represents a highly unconventional President before a remarkably skeptical press. He does this all while keeping his wits about him and resisting the temptation to put a fist through the wall. It is a task that would drive a lesser man to madness.
Taking it all in stride
President Johnson’s letter was in reply to one the Smothers had sent to the former President after watching his televised address to the nation announcing he would not seek reelection. Impressed at what they saw as his act of courage, the Smothers wrote to Johnson apologizing for the lengths to which they went in mocking him. “We have taken satirical jabs at you,” they wrote, “and more than occasionally overstepped our bounds.” Perhaps Sean Spicer might someday receive a similar letter from McCarthy.
In the meantime, as a man who takes his job, but not himself, seriously Sean Spicer is taking it all in stride. “I think Melissa McCarthy needs to slow down on the gum chewing,” Spicer told Extra. “Way too many pieces in there.”
“I think Melissa McCarthy needs to slow down on the gum chewing. Way too many pieces in there.”
President Johnson’s reply to the Smothers contained great advice for anyone who finds themselves in the public spotlight. “May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humorous in our lives.” It is advice that Sean Spicer seems to be heeding.