National Column: Kimmel goes for political jugular

by Vinay Menon

Democratic strategists should kidnap Jimmy Kimmel, lock him in a research lab and do extensive testing on his mind, personality and powers of persuasion.

They might discover a new way to fight and win.

When not cracking wise with celebrities this year, the late-night host has wiggled out of his court jester robe to embrace his inner policy wonk.

He’s yielded the spotlight to his conscience.

From giving a tearful monologue on health care to firing a bazooka into the debate on gun control, Kimmel has traded laughs for deep thoughts, delivering one master class after the next in the art of political warfare.

Every conservative who has unwisely picked a fight with the comedian has been squashed like a rotten tomato. Kimmel has twisted their talking points into pretzels. He’s made mincemeat of their hypocrisy.

One by one, he’s eaten them alive on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Just ask Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama and alleged child molester. Moore was peeved Kimmel sent a comedian from the show to disrupt his church rally on Wednesday.

So the politician tweeted a challenge: “@jimmykimmel If you want to mock our Christian values, come down here to Alabama and do it man to man.”

To which Kimmel replied: “Sounds great Roy – let me know when you get some Christian values and I’ll be there!”

Ouch. This ability to turn the tables, to force the instigator to crouch defensively, is a combat technique not generally found inside the Democratic playbook. But Kimmel isn’t following PC rules. He’s not guided by any fuzzy notion of propriety.

Take a swing and he will counterpunch until you’re a bloody mess.

He’s not afraid to get dirty.

When Moore tried to come at him a second time, by sweetening the invite while citing Hollywood’s “bigotry toward southerners,” Kimmel remained in attack mode: “OK Roy, but I’m leaving my daughters at home!”

Then on Thursday night, Kimmel activated the nuclear codes.

He moved the feud to his show and annihilated Moore.

Kimmel said he’d make the trip to Alabama with high school cheerleaders and suggested meeting at a mall in Gadsden, Ala., where the Senate candidate was once banned due to complaints he kept hitting on teens.

“And then when the girls and I show up, if you can control yourself and behave – if you can somehow manage to keep little Roy in your little cowboy pants when those nubile young cheerleaders come bounding in – you and I, we’ll sit down at the food court,” said Kimmel, as his audience roared. “We’ll have a little Panda Express and we’ll talk about Christian values.”

This is the pivotal point. When Moore cited religion to start this spat, it was a cynical effort to galvanize supporters. It was an us-versus-them gambit. He assumed Kimmel was a godless heathen from the debauched world of showbiz, where the only fundamental values are fame and fortune.

He assumed wrong. His plan backfired spectacularly.

“It doesn’t fit your stereotype,” Kimmel said, “but I happen to be a Christian, too. I made my first Holy Communion. I was confirmed. I pray. I support my church. One of my closest friends is a priest. I baptized my children. ‘Christian’ is actually my middle name.”

There was a twinkle in his eye as he moved in for the kill.

“At my church, forcing yourself on underaged girls is a no-no,” he said. “Some even consider it to be a sin.”

Lights out.

Although it now seems like every late-night comedian is part of the resistance, Kimmel’s political commentary has enjoyed greater reach and impact because of his indifference to politics in the past.

From Kimmel, we expect bits and gonzo pranks, not treatises and rallying cries. When I asked him if his show appealed to red or blue America in 2004, about a year into his run, his response then was: “Probably neither. It’s more of a purple.”

He was right. Two years ago, a Hollywood Reporter poll found his audience was split between
Republicans and Democrats. Compared to other late-night hosts, Kimmel viewers were also more likely to vote for Donald Trump.

This means Kimmel has the most to lose by taking sides. But instead of choosing the most expedient path, as Democrats often do, he’s manufacturing headaches for himself by commencing hostilities out of a sense of moral obligation.

It’s not about left and right. It’s about right and wrong.

All too often, conservatives see liberals as entitled, intellectually dishonest frauds who are hopelessly removed from the concerns of everyday people. But Kimmel has spent his entire career appealing to everyday people: that’s his base.

He’s not trying to hold on to power, another dangerous impulse for Democrats. He’s risking his power for something bigger.

As he told New York magazine in October: “I think I’ve alienated more people than I’ve brought on board. But what I thought was important was telling the truth.”

If Democrats ever learn to use common sense, anti-PC humour and apolitical honesty – if they ever learn to fight as savagely as Kimmel – they might never lose another election.

Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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