Send in the Clowns

The problem with many democratic politicians today is that they have become almost as dull as old communist autocrats. Does the future belong, then, to the clowns, the anarchic blogosphere, the anti-politicians, and the populist showmen who entertain the masses with jokes, slurs, and indiscretions?

New York -- Beppo Grillo is one of Italy’s most famous comics. He is also one of Italy’s most influential political commentators. His blog attracts 160,000 hits daily, and if he could run for prime minister (he can’t, because of a criminal record), more than half of Italy’s voters, according to a poll last year, would have considered voting for him.

Grillo is yet another reminder of a modern phenomenon: the important role of comedians in contemporary politics. Until a few years ago, the one TV program most Mexicans turned to for political information was called The Morning Quickie, broadcast from 6-10 a.m. The host, interviewer, and main commentator was Victor Trujillo, better known as Brozo the Clown, adorned with a green wig and a red rubber nose. It was Brozo the Clown who exposed a major corruption scandal in the office of a former Mexico City mayor.

While staid TV pundits ask the usually vapid questions during presidential debates in the United States, candidates know that the really important thing is to get laughs on the comedy shows of David Letterman or Jay Leno. And, for several years, American liberals have looked to Jon Stewart, another comic talent, for critical political commentary.

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