Jay Leno has been called many things: a conniving opportunist, America's middle-of-the-road funnyman, and even the true heir to Johnny Carson's legacy. But in the wake of Leno's impending exit from The Tonight Show, he has earned a new role as a hero to the political right. While it may seem ridiculous to you and me, the denim-clad comedian is being viewed as a martyr for his seeming reluctance to attack Republicans as fiercely as David Letterman, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, et al.
While I understand the Republicans' desire to find a beacon of support in the Democratic cesspool that is the world of late night, the numbers simply don't add up. For instance, a 2011 study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that Jay Leno attacked Obama more than any other of his cohorts, but the same group in 2012 saw that Leno went after Mitt Romney more than he did Obama. The right's loose grasp of hard numbers is nothing new. Just as we saw in the days leading up to the 2012 election, Republicans are putting on blinders and choosing to be delusional instead of exercising the slightest understanding of rational thought. (I'd say that they're drinking the Kool-Aid, but every good conservative knows that Kool-Aid is only for poor people, children, and poor children.) If this evidence isn’t enough, what about the fact that Leno is an out-and-out liberal? This isn’t biting the hand that feeds you, it’s reaching out to the hand that doesn’t have any food in it for a high five.
I find fault with conservatives rallying behind Leno, but I’m not wholly incredulous. Look at who they rallied behind in last year’s campaign. The similarities between Leno and Mitt Romney are staggering. Both are often criticized for being too bland. They have more support in the middle of the country than on the coasts. Plus, Romney was called out for changing sides on issues like gun control and abortion, while Leno is something of a flip-flopper as well. (I mean, everyone says he used to be funny...) The main difference seems to be in their vehicular pursuits. Romney has “a couple of Cadillacs,” while Leno has an entire airplane hangar full of cars. Mitt’s four-car garage with an elevator simply pales in comparison. At least both men seem to have the same down-to-earth lifestyles of middle-class families whom the GOP purports to serve.
Another problem here is that none of the Republicans who are now lauding Jay managed to mention the fact that he has repeatedly given "couch time" to one of the Party's most inspiring and unique voices. During the election, Ron Paul was a guest on The Tonight Show multiple times. While regularly snubbed by Fox News, not to mention the entirety of the establishment GOP, the all-seeing I-talian recognized the boost in ratings that would occur if he included the libertarian on his panel. Paul consistently gathered around 10 percent of the vote throughout the primaries, often pulling in voters who typically abstain from the political process. If Leno could see the value in those numbers, maybe he should be brought on as a pollster for the GOP in 2016. They might actually have a shot! And lest we forget the whoopee-cushion prank that Paul pulled on Jennifer Hudson. Talk about an October surprise. We haven't seen late-night antics like that since the days of Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, and that infamous can of whipped cream. Leno, you’ve done it again!
I can't blame the right for placing Leno on a pedestal. Everyone knows that late night comedians have repeatedly exerted undue pressure on the world of politics, resulting in dramatic changes for the country. Jon Stewart led the charge in impeaching George W. Bush during his first term, Colbert single-handedly brought about campaign-finance reform, and Steve Allen got the first Chinaman on the Supreme Court (played by a very convincing Mickey Rooney). In reality, even the comedians trying to make a difference have little or no effect. (Unless you count giving college kids another excuse to smoke pot together as social change.) Besides, Leno has adamantly stated that he sees his job as purely business, and not personal or political. This money-driven approach obviously appeals to the GOP. It was Romney who said, "Corporations are people." Leno is proving that people can be corporations. How could Republicans resist?
Ultimately, the Republicans' propping up Jay Leno is as fruitless as running a moderate in a national election. I’d propose that the GOP spend less time focusing on those making jokes, and stop acting like one itself. If so, conservatives may eventually garner the same approval as the man whose demise they’re currently lamenting. On a more personal note, I’d like to mention that I cut my teeth in Los Angeles working as an NBC page. I answered phones, gave tours of the soon-to-be-defunct Burbank lot, and seated the audience for Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show. If Leno ever walked past you in the halls, he’d go out of his way to acknowledge your menial existence at the bottom of the ladder and ask how you were doing. I saw NBC go through numerous changes in personnel, programming, and corporate ownership. The one constant was Jay Fucking Leno. He showed up every day and gave every audience he stood in front of his absolute all. Just last year, the man took a huge pay cut to save as many jobs on his show as he could. You may not like him. You may not think he’s funny, but cut the man some slack. Leno just seems like a really nice, good guy. And that’s more than I can say for most Republicans.
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