George Pyle: Mike Lee is not the Jar Jar Binks of the Senate

(Scott Kowalchyk | CBS) Stephen Colbert spent five minutes mocking Utah's Sen. Mike Lee on Wednesday's edition of "The Late Show."

It’s all fun and games until someone gets compared to Jar Jar Binks.

Yes, we all had a lot of fun reacting to the speech Utah’s Mike Lee gave on the floor of the U.S. Senate almost two weeks ago. He deserved every punch line and exasperated expression.

Well, almost.

In his vain effort to discredit the Green New Deal offered by congressional Democrats, Lee charged, falsely, that the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would mean no airplanes and no modern ocean-going ships.

So, with appropriate visual aids, Lee posited a future where Hawaiians would have to ride giant seahorses (like 1960s Aquaman) and Alaskans would only be able to get around on Tauntauns (a la Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back").

The reaction of the late night TV hosts was a modern version of what was supposedly said by Thomas Henry Huxley when, in an Oxford debate over Charles Darwin’s new “On the Origin of Species,” Bishop Samuel Wilberforce said something so dumb that made it easier for Huxley to defend evolution.

“The lord hath delivered him into my hands.”

Stephen Colbert went deep. He described Lee as a “driver’s ed teacher” and “your new stepfather.” And, to echo Lee’s use of Star Wars iconography, described Utah’s senior senator as “the Jar Jar Binks of the Senate.”

OK. That’s going too far.

Jar Jar may be the most hated character in the history of blockbuster films, compared to a blackface version of African Americans or Jamaicans.

I always thought that was a little harsh. Jar Jar was annoying, yes, but he served a dramatic purpose. While the Jedi Knight heroes remained totally cool in the face of invading robot armies and ginormous sea monsters, some on-screen character had to let the audience know when it was time to be scared. That was Jar Jar’s job, and he carried it off admirably.

But the Gungan fell from comic relief grace to evil pawn infamy when he was tricked — the Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded — into making the motion in the Galactic Senate to give the secretly evil chancellor dictatorial powers.

Things really went downhill after that.

Lee may have really goofy things to say about climate change, health care and how it makes sense to shut down the government for light and transient reasons. But there is no reason to expect that he would ever, ever propose giving unchecked executive power to anyone.

When he isn’t being wrong about so many other things, Lee’s big cause is the defense of congressional authority and prerogatives against more than a century of executive usurpation of same. Kind of retro, perhaps, but principled and useful.

That’s his motivation for reaching waaaaay across the aisle to join with Sen. Bernie Sanders to get Congress to invoke the moribund War Powers Act and order the administration to cease its assistance of the president’s biggest creditors, the royal family of Saudi Arabia, in their nearly genocidal war in Yemen. Of the rest of the Utah delegation, only Rep. Ben McAdams, the sole Democrat, sided with Lee and against presidential supremacy.

The president will veto that resolution, so it won’t matter much. Just like it won’t matter much that Lee, McAdams and Sen. Mitt Romney voted against the president’s bogus declaration of an emergency at the Mexican border, because that measure was likewise vetoed. Still, Lee tried, and in opposition to a president of his own party.

Lee richly deserves much of the ridicule he has received. But Jar Jar Binks?

Meesa don’t think so.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.