This probably won't win me many friends on the cocktail party circuit, but Harry Shearer needs to kind of shut the hell up. The voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders and a host of other characters on The Simpsons -- as well as a regular member of Christopher Guest's merry band of mockumentary lunatics -- is one of the funniest and cleverest guys around. Or at least he was until he found a cause.
For the past couple of years, Shearer's chosen to trade in his sense of humor in the name of becoming professionally sullen and pissy about the injustices he sees all around him. (The proper name for this is to Garofalo.) What he sees around him, being that New Orleans is his adopted home, is unmitigated failure in the time leading up to and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I'm obviously not going to diminish or make light of the human catastrophe that was Katrina; from almost every possible perspective -- personal, political, cultural -- what happened to the Gulf Coast in 2005, and what was in some ways compounded by the recent BP oil spill, was a criminal disaster of biblical scope. I also have no problem with New Orleans being Harry Shearer's pet project; it only makes sense given that he spends most of his time there and has a real love for the place. While I admit that it outraged me to watch the city essentially drown on national television while our government sat with its thumbs up its feckless ass, I didn't have the kind of personal connection to what I was witnessing that someone who called New Orleans home would have.
No, what I take issue with is Shearer -- by any standard a whip-smart guy -- jumping on the already crowded "You've Failed Us!" bandwagon currently dragging Barack Obama's corpse around the left-wing blogosphere like Hector being dragged around Troy. His new post over at HuffPo, entitled President Obama Speaks To New Orleans from Planet Zarg, is the latest in a series of jabs he's taken at the president -- but this one is particularly egregious because Shearer's argument seems to be that Obama didn't spend the predetermined but entirely arbitrary amount of time in New Orleans over the weekend necessary to properly mark the fifth anniversary of Katrina and that he didn't say the right thing while he was there. It's one thing to shout that you're disappointed in Barack Obama because, say, unemployment remains sky-high or we're still M4 muzzle-deep in Afghanistan; but to claim that he's out-of-touch because he gives a commemorative speech full of the kind of bromides you'd expect to hear in a commemorative speech, then rushes off to go try to take care of every other goddamn problem we're facing right now -- that's just asinine.
I've voiced my irritation about this kind of thing before so it's not really worth repeating at length, but suffice it to say these days I actually read far fewer left-slanted political op-ed pieces than I do those from the right. That's because it boils my blood a hell of a lot less to hear Obama's occasionally psychotic sworn enemies rake him over the coals than it does those who claim to share his general ideals -- the whining brats who can't tell the difference between demanding "smart accountability" and constantly complaining that because they didn't walk outside their front doors the morning after his inauguration to find that marijuana and gay marriage were mandatory, we'd abolished the military and built a giant cruelty-free food co-op at Ground Zero, Obama had somehow let them down.
I'm glad Harry Shearer is passionate about what's happened and continues to happen to New Orleans -- and he has every right in the world to voice his opinion and make oodles of what I'm sure are damn fine and entirely infuriating documentaries on the subject.
I just wish he'd be a little more realistic about what the President of the United States is dealing with right now. Katrina was an epochal tragedy -- but it's not the only tragedy on Obama's plate these days.
(Sketch by the incredibly talented Chris Wahl)