The more I read about Richard Nixon the more I get obsessed with him. I've begun to see him as the quintessential American figure, as a man who embodies the drive for success and it's dark side in equal measures. But it occurs to me that the only reason why I can see him as an interesting man is because I didn't have to live through his term in office. Since I don't have strong first hand memories of what it felt like to live in Nixon's America I can think of him in the abstract, almost as if he was just a character in a book - like a Great Gatsby that is slightly more real - and that allows for admiration to mix in with the suspicion.
Of course, I don't have the same amount of remove for controversial presidents who served in my lifetime. In The Loop is a pointed satire of George W. Bush's term as President, with a specific focus on the run up to the Iraq war, and even though I recognize that the movie is funny, it repeatedly brought deep wells of frustration up in me. The line that perhaps best embodies that duality is when the assistant Secretary of State says the he doesn't need multiple facts to make up his mind because "in the land of truth the man with one fact is king". That line has the same mixture of witty / depressing that Stephen Colbert's "Truthiness" did; you want to laugh at the cleverness of it, but it's hard to giggle when you're watching such smarmy people use their power in such venal ways. But at the same time I can totally see how later generations would watch this with a level of remove that I could never personally have, and I imagine that those people will find the stunning ignorance of that line to be an on-target satirization of a pompous asshole.
I can already see the remove happening in real time: In the Loop's director and co-writer Armando Iannucci also created Veep, and that show has a similar satirical take on the sordidness of American politics, but it does so with one step removed. It's not looking at a specific Presidential regime, it's looking at the type of person who wants to be President and the sort of inescapable embarrassments that follow them around. Veep is a sitcom version of In The Loop, a caricature that got blown up another ten or twenty percent on a photocopier, and while I can tell the difference between them, I'm not sure if someone who didn't remember the exact feeling of being stuck in W's America would. To them, they would both just be satires of power hungry buffoons, even though one is obviously more grounded than the other.
I suppose this is just history at work. It's easy for me to laugh at all of the Richard-Nixon-was-a-monster jokes on Futurama because I don't have any lingering bitterness about Nixon; to me he's just as much a target for ridicule as he is a figure for study. It feels like its too soon for George W. Bush to turn into that; for now he's just a thing I'd rather forget. But I'm sure there will be some kid who wants to be in the loop just as much as I do, and instead of reading books about Nixon, he'll be watching films about W. like In The Loop, and I'm sure he'll laugh about it and not really get why it isn't funny. And good for him; I wish I could laugh at this film's jokes, too.