Bush Jabs Make a Comeback

Half a year after President Bush declared war on terrorism, bashing Dubya to get a laugh may be back in vogue.

Actors, comedians, political-satire cartoonists and comic writers have all taken potshots at the president recently, hailing back to the days of the 2000 campaign when Bush-bashing was an almost nightly occurrence on the nation's sitcoms and talk shows.

In the most widely publicized such case since Sept. 11, movie star Alec Baldwin recently visited Florida and called the 2000 presidential election America's "other catastrophic event" of the last year.

"Bush wasn't elected, he was selected — selected by five judges up in Washington who voted along party lines," Baldwin said. "We have to get him out of office and we have to get his brother out of office in 2004."

Just last week in Washington, performer Sandra Bernhard told an audience, "Bush is amateurish and self-serving and frankly, it's disgusting."

Filmmaker Michael Moore recently wrote of the president, "You've been a drunk, a thief, a possible felon, an unconvicted deserter and a cry baby."

Some are outraged at the remarks, while others take them with a grain of salt.

"This is a matter of great sensitivity to partisans, but it doesn't have any serious effect on the body politic," according to Fox News media analyst Eric Burns.

Still, the renewed ribbing at the president's expense has gotten a number of people pretty hot, to borrow a word Bush himself recently used to describe the latest misstep by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"I think political criticism ought to be muted during wartime," said Hugh Hewitt, host of a nationally syndicated radio show. "It could hurt morale, it could hurt the ability of the American government to communicate its message clearly. It might convince people like Saddam [Hussein] that there's division at home when there isn't and that Bush faces enormous political obstacles when he doesn't."

The mockery quieted after Sept. 11, when the terrorist attacks and subsequent war subdued even the most vocal of critics. Outspoken celebrities who aligned themselves with former President Bill Clinton, like Rosie O'Donnell and Barbra Streisand, rallied behind Bush.

Not that they necessarily liked doing it.

"A, they resent the fact that he is popular. B, they resent the fact that he's popular," quipped Harry Shearer, the writer/director of the film Teddy Bears' Picnic.

Enduring jokes, parodies and criticisms — by celebs, satirists or anyone else — has historically been part of every president's job description. But what bothers those like Hewitt is the current U.S. involvement in a dangerous and delicate war on terror.

Hewitt said he doesn't take issue with political impersonators like Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, or traditionally non-partisan late-night talk show hosts like David Letterman and Jay Leno. But he resents what he calls "agenda comedy" — entertainment that's billed as simple, light-hearted amusement when it's actually driven by a political agenda.

"Comics walk away saying it's just for a laugh. They say they're comics when in fact they're activists," Hewitt said. "These are people who are now quite bitter about the president's popularity."

Others, like Burns, think seasoned comedians who present themselves as objective can have far more of an impact on popular perception.

"Actors who are clearly identifying with a political cause certainly don't have much credibility — they're show-biz people," Burns said. "But humor is a very effective weapon. The jokes of someone as clever as Leno or Letterman, who are not seen as politically partisan, are pretty powerful."

Still, Burns doesn't believe any of the political posturing in Hollywood, literary circles or the world of cartoon satire constitutes a national crisis.

"None of that is enough to bring down a president or change opinion seriously," he said.

Fox News' William La Jeunesse and The Associated Press contributed to this report.