At an inappropriately young age I watched a lot of Comedy Central in the early 1990s, which explains a lot about me — not the least of which is my unsettling ability to find humor in things that aren’t supposed to be funny. Way too much of my time is spent suppressing laughter in otherwise serious situations.
But having watched old comedy reruns occasionally pays dividends.
On Tuesday, the House was debating a bill that would require the Congressional Budget Office to cease its practice of projecting increases in discretionary spending due to inflation. Arguing that discounting inflation would lead to unrealistic budget estimates, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who’s also the ranking member of the Budget Committee, pulled out visual aids as lawmakers are wont to do.
A chart showing half of a McDonald’s hamburger to explain how inflation diminishes purchasing power. After about five seconds of playing, “Where have I seen this before?” I had the answer:
That’s comedian Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci of Saturday Night Live fame doing an old bit where he explains inflation in terms of McDonald’s hamburgers. I haven’t heard Van Hollen’s full spiel, but there’s no way it’s nearly as funny as Novello’s.
While it’s easy to knock Van Hollen for this childish presentation, he knew exactly what he was doing. In an age where charts and visuals reign on social media, he made sure his speech was “viral-enabled,” as social media mavens might say.
Also, the fact that Americans are hopelessly addicted to the fast food in the chart is key. Van Hollen could’ve used a gallon of milk, or a bag of flour, or eggs, or any number of food staples to make his point. But those are all boring. Necessary for many, but boring. And boring doesn’t get you on social media so you can “raise awareness.” Nope. To make sure this got in the news, Van Hollen needed a visual of something that just might actually get Americans to give a shit: the McDonald’s Value Menu.
I just wish Van Hollen had given Novello a hat tip.