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Life, aka Citizens United, meets art, aka Saturday Night Live

Count me among those who were around for the first Saturday Night Live, or SNL as it's known in this acronym age, show 39 years ago.

Also count me among those who firmly believe the original cast (plus Bill Murray a few years later) and quality of their skits were the best ever.

Tom Snyder interviews Lorne Michaels and the original SNL cast before the show's debut on Oct. 11, 1975.

Don't worry. This isn't going to be a nostalgic geezer stroll down TV Land lane.

Although I have fond memories of the original, I also happily acknowledge that some of the more recent political parodies -- Darrell Hammond's spot-on Bill Clinton (warmly embraced by the former Commander in Chief), Tina Fey's eerie Sarah Palin doppelgänger, Will Ferrell's mastery of Bush 43's malapropisms, Jason Sudeikis' always off-the-cuff Joe Biden, and Jay Pharoah's on-target Obama -- put Chevy Chase's one-note clumsy Gerald Ford to shame.

Now life has imitated art.

Senate debate of Citizens United: As the late-night comedy program was getting ready to mark its season debut later this month, SNL became part of a real political debate over the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

Last week, the U.S. Senate considered a measure calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision, particularly where it affects campaign financing.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that political spending is a form of First Amendment protected speech that extends to corporations. Often referred to as the ultimate "corporations are people" ruling, it means that businesses etc. are allowed to try to influence voters through other means, including ads during election campaigns.

Opponents of Citizens United argue that it essentially allows the biggest spenders <cough> the Koch brothers' enterprises <cough> to buy elections. Their deeper pockets mean their constitutionally protected opinions get wider play in the commercial media than those of ordinary citizens or smaller, poorer groups.

Citizens United, meet SNL: During the debate, the junior senator from the Lone Star State did some TV reminiscing of his own.

Buried at the bottom of a New York Times story on the show's Sept. 27 debut (Chris Pratt, whom I still remember as Bright on "Everwood," will host), there was mention of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) claiming that SNL's vaunted political satire could be stopped if the Citizens United case is overturned.

Quotation-marks-quoteLooking to mount a defense for corporate interests, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said the amendment might make it a "criminal offense" for "S.N.L." to engage in political satire because it is a show owned by NBC, which is a corporation.

Mr. Cruz suggested that Lorne Michaels, the creator of "Saturday Night Live," could be jailed for making fun of any politician if the amendment were to become law.

"I grew up watching 'Saturday Night Live,'" Mr. Cruz said on Tuesday [Sept. 9] in a floor speech illustrated by photos from the show. "I love 'Saturday Night Live.'" He cited Tina Fey's eviscerating portrayal of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign as being "wickedly funny" and having had a "profoundly powerful effect" on the race.

If Mr. Cruz is unable to encourage "S.N.L." to submit an amicus curiae brief supporting his cause, he might at least succeed in inspiring the show to build a sketch around the prospect of jailing Mr. Michaels.

Political theatrics run amok: I worked in Washington, D.C., for almost 20 years, most of it on Capitol Hill. I know a lot of politicians are frustrated actors, hence the description of the nation's capital as Hollywood for less attractive people.

But really Ted. First, you bring Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" into the political arena. Now SNL is pulled into a real, not fake, Senate debate.

I'm freaking out a bit thinking about what other cultural touchstones from my life -- Captain Kangaroo? The Beatles? The moon landing? -- that the theatrical Cruz might use for political purposes next.

Citizens United lives: And oh yeah. About the actual, not TV, law.

I'm not sure if Cruz's SNL argument was that instrumental, but he and his Senate Republican colleagues did succeed in killing the attempt to override Citizens United.

Remember that as the Nov. 5 midterm elections ads fill up your television screens.

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