With Super Tuesday still a few weeks away, I thought I’d attempt to inject some levity into the political discussion.
The Christian Science Monitor recently ran a piece dealing with humor on the campaign trail. The article details some of Abraham Lincoln’s best one-liners while on the stump, including a particularly good bit on being “two-faced.” I know I’ve relayed this story before, but I’ll do so again:
A man in the crowd thought he heard Lincoln contradict himself during a speech and decided to call him out on it.
“You’re two-faced!” the man shouted.
Instead of arguing the point with the heckler, Lincoln made a joke.
“If I were two-faced,” Lincoln replied, “would I be wearing this one?”
Not only can humor level a vocal critic, but it can also attract votes. Candidates have long-recognized how valuable a good sense of humor can be.
For instance, the article mentions a few memorable lines from the recent past. In 1980, Ronald Regan explained some familiar economic terms this way: “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”
Here’s another. In 1992, Bill Clinton told a crowd in Georgia that handing over the economy to George H. W. Bush would be like “hiring General Sherman for fire commissioner.” No doubt the reference to Sherman’s “March to the Sea” resonated with many of the proud Georgians in the crowd.
If there was an American president who had a better sense of humor than Lincoln, I am not aware of it. Let me put it another way. Somehow, Lincoln was able to inject humor into the Lincoln-Douglas Debates…these were three-hour long affairs that dealt with the momentous issue of American slavery! Moreover, his humor was usually well-placed. A long story with a good punch line was almost always designed to illustrate a larger point.
Many of today’s candidates are reluctant to make a joke on the campaign trail, much less during a televised debate. Consultants are familiar with the terrible repercussions of a joke that bombs. Instead of laughs, the audience gasps. Instead of collecting votes, the candidate offers apologies.
I have watched a handful of the presidential debates thus far. Republican candidates Mike Huckabee and John McCain do not seem to be afraid to make a joke. I like that.
The Democrats seem less eager to make us laugh; nonetheless, I came across this news story this morning. I liked it quite a bit.
Last night, Senator Barack Obama made Nevada voters laugh. He told them about something funny that happened during the Democratic debate on Tuesday.
The candidates were asked to name their biggest weakness.
Obama had to respond first. He replied that his desk was a mess and he needs some help organizing his paperwork. The next day, his opponents used his reply against him. If Obama can’t keep his office in order, they asked, how can we expect him to run the country efficiently?
Fair enough. Obama walked into that one. However, he told Nevada voters that he was terribly disappointed in the way his opponents answered the same question.
Former Senator John Edwards said his biggest weakness is that he has a powerful response to seeing pain in others.
Senator Hillary Clinton responded that her biggest weakness is that she gets impatient to bring change to America.
“Because I’m an ordinary person, I thought that they meant, ‘What’s your biggest weakness?” said Obama. “If I would have gone last I would have known what the game was. And then I could have said, “Well, ya know, I like to help old ladies across the street. Sometimes they don’t want to be helped. It’s terrible.”
The crowd laughed with Obama, perhaps they will vote for him too.