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Let’s Learn to Laugh About Obama

The New Yorker cover controversy and Obama's humorless reaction show that America has forgotten how to laugh.

by
Elizabeth Scalia

Bio

July 19, 2008 - 12:05 am
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In fairness, the reason some thought the cartoon would be misconstrued was that it was unfinished satire. The artist, Barry Blitt, simply did not go far enough; he should have included a “Honk if you love jihad” bumper sticker on the back of Obama’s caftan, had Fidel Castro sitting nearby, and displayed a thermostat set to either “very cold in winter” or “sweaty in summer.” Satire is meant to be broad but — for whatever reason, perhaps precisely because we cannot gauge Obama’s sense of humor — the artist pulled his punch. In so doing, he ended up confusing and infuriating the Left and amusing the Right, who not only got the insult but found it particularly funny that, in their tortured explanations, the Left gave more and more exposure to those extreme ideas. Oh, irony!

Several days into the breathless tangle, Sen. Obama finally made a clear statement to Larry King, in which he attempted to play down the cartoon while reiterating the message: “I’ve seen and heard worse,” he said. “I do think that in attempting to satirize something, they probably fueled some misconceptions about me instead. But that was their editorial judgment.”

Oh, brother. As Daffy Duck might say, “What a way to run a railroad!” Obama’s earnest and boring response was exactly wrong. If he truly believed that the satirical edge was missing — and thus misleading — he should have himself made the content plain with a genial laugh and a concurrence: “Wait,” Obama could have said, “where’s my fake birth certificate hanging on the wall? Why doesn’t my wife have a Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat on her head? He left out my hammer and sickle!”

When Ronald Reagan was asked a question about age and the presidency — a question meant to highlight his advanced years — he quickly quipped, “I’m not going to hold my opponent’s youth against him.” The issue was dead from that point on.

Earnestness is all well and good, but a light touch and a shared laugh can reassure the nation that the bad times are endurable, the good times are just ahead, and the president has his wits about him and his eye on that football.

Al Gore and John Kerry were unacquainted with self-deprecating humor and they lost to a Texan who could make fun of himself. Obama — if he is smart — will heed history and lighten up, before he falls from a glorious height and lands with a very cartoon-like thud. No one wants to watch him walk away with his head between his feet.

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Elizabeth Scalia is a contributing writer to First Things Magazine and the blogger known as The Anchoress.
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