halfacanuck

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect my actual opinions.

June 18, 2004

Humor in politics

Here's a little something I wrote over the last couple of days, inbetween working on financial planning software (sigh). I submitted it to the Globe and Mail but haven't heard back yet. Dude's got until 2pm and then I'm trying the National Post...

UPDATE: Never did hear back from the Globe. The guy at the Post said it's a nice piece but I missed the Reagan boat by a couple of days. Shouldn't've waited for a reply from the Globe I guess.

In recent days public figures have been falling over each other in a headlong rush to be heard praising former president Ronald Reagan. Republicans and Democrats, Americans and Canadians alike have heaped lavish glory, and no facet of his personality has been more often cited than his sense of humor.

Reagan was a funny guy, on the record and off. “Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement,” he once told gathered journalists. He clearly recognized the efficacy of humor in making those around him more comfortable. But Reagan also grasped, more than any politician since, how humor could be employed to defuse even the most controversial of statements.

When questioned about America’s surging debt Reagan famously replied, “I’m not worried about the deficit. It’s big enough to take care of itself.” This was no cheap gag. Reagan’s attachment to Keynesian economics is well-enough understood to say that he probably didn’t care about the deficit, but he knew he couldn’t just come out and say that. By wrapping what amounts to an incredibly important policy statement inside a joke Reagan lessened its impact considerably. It’s hard to criticize with a smile on your face, and even harder to demonize someone who makes us laugh. Could anyone other than Chris Rock or Bill Cosby slam African-American culture so hard? Bill Maher used to say, on his ABC show Politically Incorrect, “it’s all been satirized for your protection,” but really he meant his protection. We allowed him to say the things he said only because we laughed.

Another aspect of humor Reagan understood was its ability to neutralize or even reverse his perceived weaknesses. In a 1984 debate against 56-year-old political veteran Walter Mondale, amid concerns that Reagan (the oldest president ever to have served) might not be able to withstand the grueling schedule for another term, he quipped that he would not “make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Even Mondale thought it was funny, until he lost in a landslide.

Often the most successful and beloved politicians have been those with a well-developed sense of humor. Winston Churchill was a fine orator and a widely respected historian and author, but it’s his witticisms that are most often quoted. He was often cruelly dismissive of his opponents on a very personal level, but he like Reagan knew that an attack couched in humor is not only well received but also well remembered. “A modest man with much to be modest about,” said Churchill of his rival Clement Atlee, and described how “an empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing St, and when the door was opened, Atlee got out.” In contrast, Atlee’s remark that “fifty percent of Winston is genius, fifty percent bloody fool” comes across as petulant envy.

Humor is missing in action from today’s political rhetoric. Tuesday evening’s debate between our party leaders was almost entirely bereft of levity, aside from Paul Martin’s jab at Jack Layton, when he enquired, “did your handlers tell you to talk all the time?”. Layton, probably genuinely offended, responded hotly and a touch sanctimoniously by accusing Martin of making light of the issue.

Are our politicians simply unfunny people? It’s statistically improbable that all four of the leaders we watched Tuesday have no sense of humor whatsoever. More likely, humor has fallen out of favor in contemporary politics. As CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield said during a 2002 forum on the subject, humor is the “nitroglycerin of politics: it is very powerful, very dangerous, and has to be handled with great care.” It’s easy for a joke to be misinterpreted, or for it to fall flat on its face, leaving the deliverer waiting, embarrassingly, for laughter that never arrives. Better to keep it straight. This is serious business, politics, as Layton’s trembling indignation testifies.

But does anyone really believe that, powerful as it is, nitroglycerin should never be used? In skilled hands it can demolish obstacles and destroy enemies. Humor, as we’ve seen, can do the same. What’s more, a sense of humor is a very attractive character trait. Reagan’s knack for humor was, I contend, a major factor behind his popularity with both Republicans and Democrats. Funny people are easier to empathise with, and more immediately likeable, than the deadly serious. Most importantly, for politicians at least, they are also easier to forgive.

Of course, no-one wants a clown for a prime minister – Pierre Trudeau’s pirouette bordered on the ridiculous – but if the election coverage thus far has told us anything, it’s that we want a leader we can trust. In other words, we want someone like us, someone with whom we feel connected. Humor has the potential to bridge the gap between us and them more effectively than any other device.

So please, Mr Martin, Mr Harper, Mr Layton, Mr Harris, Mr Duceppe, amuse us once in a while. Amuse us deliberately, not just with your political pratfalls. Do that and it might well be you having the last laugh come June 28.

4 Comments:

At May 13, 2016 at 11:17 PM , Blogger oakleyses said...

nike roshe, nike air max, jordan shoes, air max, polo outlet, christian louboutin shoes, tiffany and co, tiffany jewelry, ray ban sunglasses, replica watches, oakley sunglasses, longchamp outlet, louis vuitton, chanel handbags, nike outlet, nike free run, longchamp outlet, sac longchamp pas cher, oakley sunglasses wholesale, uggs on sale, ray ban sunglasses, tory burch outlet, replica watches, louis vuitton outlet, prada outlet, polo ralph lauren outlet online, christian louboutin, prada handbags, nike air max, christian louboutin outlet, louis vuitton outlet, kate spade outlet, burberry pas cher, ugg boots, cheap oakley sunglasses, gucci handbags, oakley sunglasses, longchamp pas cher, oakley sunglasses, jordan pas cher, nike free, christian louboutin uk, louis vuitton, ugg boots, michael kors pas cher, louboutin pas cher, polo ralph lauren, louis vuitton outlet, ray ban sunglasses

 
At May 13, 2016 at 11:20 PM , Blogger oakleyses said...

mulberry uk, nike air max, michael kors outlet, true religion jeans, burberry outlet, burberry handbags, michael kors outlet, polo lacoste, michael kors, north face uk, michael kors outlet online, michael kors outlet online, oakley pas cher, guess pas cher, kate spade, vans pas cher, sac vanessa bruno, michael kors outlet, true religion outlet, uggs outlet, coach purses, abercrombie and fitch uk, hollister pas cher, new balance, nike air max uk, true religion outlet, ralph lauren uk, hollister uk, nike air max uk, sac hermes, replica handbags, michael kors outlet online, uggs outlet, lululemon canada, coach outlet store online, converse pas cher, timberland pas cher, nike air force, coach outlet, michael kors, north face, true religion outlet, nike roshe run uk, nike tn, nike blazer pas cher, hogan outlet, ray ban uk

 
At May 13, 2016 at 11:22 PM , Blogger oakleyses said...

valentino shoes, babyliss, asics running shoes, celine handbags, chi flat iron, converse outlet, north face outlet, reebok outlet, louboutin, mcm handbags, nike huaraches, timberland boots, instyler, p90x workout, bottega veneta, mac cosmetics, ralph lauren, insanity workout, nike air max, jimmy choo outlet, soccer jerseys, nike roshe run, nike air max, ferragamo shoes, new balance shoes, hollister, hermes belt, converse, nike trainers uk, iphone cases, giuseppe zanotti outlet, baseball bats, oakley, mont blanc pens, ghd hair, ray ban, wedding dresses, hollister clothing, lululemon, hollister, nfl jerseys, longchamp uk, vans outlet, beats by dre, north face outlet, vans, soccer shoes, herve leger, abercrombie and fitch, gucci

 
At May 13, 2016 at 11:25 PM , Blogger oakleyses said...

canada goose outlet, barbour uk, pandora uk, moncler, canada goose, canada goose outlet, canada goose jackets, canada goose, toms shoes, swarovski crystal, links of london, moncler outlet, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, ugg uk, pandora jewelry, wedding dresses, moncler, ugg pas cher, moncler outlet, pandora jewelry, canada goose outlet, karen millen uk, doudoune moncler, supra shoes, louis vuitton, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, canada goose, hollister, juicy couture outlet, louis vuitton, lancel, juicy couture outlet, coach outlet, canada goose uk, louis vuitton, moncler uk, louis vuitton, pandora charms, montre pas cher, moncler, swarovski, marc jacobs, moncler, replica watches, barbour, thomas sabo, louis vuitton, ugg

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home