One of the vaguely surreal things things about life in the time of COVID-19 is seeing late-night TV hosts’ work environment resembling mine.
Everyone now realizes the monkey’s-paw nature of the desire to work from home every day, including very rich comedians who tell dad jokes about Donald Trump. It’s not living the dream like you thought it would be, is it, Seth Meyers?
One difference between Meyers and myself is that I don’t do my work with a conspicuously packed bookshelf 18 inches behind me, which I find to be a motif that repeats itself on most of these ersatz “sets.” Another difference is that Meyers gives softball interviews to politicians like Bernie Sanders, whereas I take them apart.
Sanders appeared on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” in an interview recorded on Monday, according to the Media Resource Center. If you expected anything adversarial — or even probing — you tuned into the wrong show, people. This was like one of those town hall-style meetings candidates have with their own supporters, except it was with one supporter who was begging the kinda-sorta presidential candidate (let’s face it, it’s over) to politicize the COVID-19 crisis.
So there was the usual opening banter about how Sanders was balancing his Senate work and his candidacy. That lasted maybe, oh, a minute. Then we jumped right into batting practice.
“One of the moments, or one of the unique things about this moment, is how it’s making a lot of people reevaluate the current system in health care,” Meyers said.
“Could you just speak to how this moment would be different if we had a system like ‘Medicare for all’ and the shortcomings of the current system we’re living with?”
If there was someone from the Sanders campaign, off-camera, pointing a gun at Meyers’ head, he certainly didn’t let it show.
Sanders’ answer was, well, predictable: “Thank you for asking that question, Seth, and I think the answer is fairly obvious. Right now, as we speak, millions of people are losing their jobs. And some 87 million people already did not have any health insurance or are underinsured.
“So, people are sitting home right now, scared to death that somebody in their family is going to come down with the virus. They don’t know how they will even pay for the treatment that they receive, let alone any other health care problems their families have.”
Now, I’m not exactly a noob when it comes to late-night interviews with Democratic politicians. These things are usually pitched at the level of campaign commercials, and dumb ones at that. What made the Sanders-Meyers interview special, however, was how hard Meyers wanted Sanders to politicize the pandemic.
The next question had to do with Sanders’ time on the Senate floor during the debate over the coronavirus bill, in which, as Meyers put it, Bernie had sarcastically said “that some across the aisle felt that the bill was being too generous to the less fortunate, to poorer Americans” over unemployment benefits.
“In those moments of sarcasm, is that – is that just masking a simmering rage you feel when your colleagues react like that?”
“Absolutely,” Sanders said. “Look, you have folks in the Senate, my Republican colleagues, who voted for a trillion dollars in tax breaks for the 1 percent and large corporations, and yet, in this stimulus package … what we said is, over a four-month period, in this terrible time where people are so worried about how they’re going to feed their families … that for four months we’re going to add $600 to what you would normally get from an unemployment check.
“We had some of my Republican colleagues say, ‘Imagine, there will be some low-income workers who would actually earn more from their unemployment check than they previously did when they made 10, 12 bucks an hour. We can’t allow that to happen!’ And to me, that is so ugly, so grotesque, so immoral that I felt compelled to speak out about it.”
And no, there wasn’t a whole lot of challenge from Meyers about whether or not this would incentivize people to remain on unemployment. Instead, we have the politics of demonization from Sanders: “So ugly, so grotesque, so immoral.” A pretty nasty political commercial, this.
Going further, here’s Meyers: “One of the other things that’s always been a criticism about the sort of health care that you’ve proposed is people will say, ‘Oh, there’s going to be rationed care, there’s going to be long lines, there’s going to be death panels.’ And yet, it does seem like now there is – certain people on the right make the argument that, ‘Hey, this is just how it goes during a pandemic. Some people who are most at risk, you have to sort of make an economic decision about how – what value to put on their lives.’ Is that stunning to you, when you hear that?”
“Of course it is stunning,” Sanders said. “It is stunning and it speaks to the hypocrisy of these folks.”
So, several things. First, I thought these sorts of videos were supposed to be preceded by: “I’m Bernie Sanders, and I approve this message.” Is this a Federal Election Commission violation? Or are we just admitting Sanders doesn’t have much of a candidacy to return to when this is all over?
Also, Meyers is an inexpert softball-tosser. One thing I’ve learned about these interviews is that they go so much better if you ask a question that makes it at least look like you’re trying. Anything about Italy’s socialized health care system? What about how we’re going to pay for everything Sanders is proposing? You could even go with that question about how conservatives worry about incentivizing unemployment.
Rest assured that Sanders has answers for these. Not good ones, at least by my standards, but they’re answers nonetheless. I know this because I know every candidate has canned answers for the campaign trail. Just go with one of those. Let him tee off. The alternative was so blatantly obvious that it was painful.
Most importantly, however: At a time like this, is politicizing COVID-19 on late-night TV really what we need?
This was a chance to bring us together, not to act as a campaign surrogate for a hopelessly far-left candidate telling conservatives how immoral and grotesque their impulses are. Wanted some distraction? Chances are no matter where you fell on the political spectrum, you ended up with a blood pressure spike from Monday’s interview. I thought we were supposed to be avoiding those.
Well, that’s just one interview. I hope you tuned in Tuesday, when the marquee guest was Sen. Elizabeth Warren. No, seriously. He asked why she hasn’t endorsed Sanders for president yet.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.