Ronald Reagan’s famous quip to Jimmy Carter during the presidential debates in 1980 was designed to puncture Carter’s ever-growing hectoring punitive liberal tone. Carter’s natural elitism was masked by his initial sunny campaign persona and omnipresent smile during his 1976 campaign, but worn down by four years in which Carter’s fecklessness was no match for rising inflation, unemployment and interest rates, a flat-lined stock market, a newly radicalized and reprimitivized Middle East, and a Soviet Union which had reacquired its taste for land acquisition, all a direct result, as the Gipper would go on to prove once in office, of Carter’s outdated playback coupled with Carter’s own built-in sense of malaise.
Fortunately for the American public, Barack Obama has arrived at the same dissipated and humorless state merely from being out on the campaign trail, instead of after four painful bumbling years actually in the Oval Office!
Of course, those could well be on the way no matter what happens, but Obama’s current malaise may be why, as James Bowman posits, the New Yorker tried to do Obama a favor this week, by giving him something to punch against, to restore the populist charm of his campaign back in the earlier, carefree days of the primaries:
The most disturbing thing about this media storm is the utter humorlessness not only of the hard left and the media, which we already pretty much knew about, but of the Obama campaign itself, which professed to be mightily offended by the cartoon. And suddenly I am struck by another possibility: that the posture of taking offense was the Obama campaign’s repudiation of the support of the eggheaded, Kerry-loving, cheese-eating faction that so many Americans look on as elitist. At the risk of being seen to have jumped on the paranoiac band-wagon myself, I wonder if giving the offense in the first place was The New Yorker’s way of offering him that opportunity to disclaim the elitist tendency he was so damaged by when Hillary Clinton successfully identified him with it during the primary campaign.
But of course, Obama is no mood to look at gift cover in the mouth, as Kathleen Parker writes:
Oh, for a good riposte.
Barack Obama’s levity-free reaction to the now-famous New Yorker cartoon leaves one reluctantly wondering: Is he humor-challenged? Perchance, does he take himself too seriously for a nation of wits and wags?
So soaring has been Obama’s rhetoric and so dazzling his smile that we’ve missed the possibility that the Illinois senator is less the lanky rock star and more the purse-lipped church lady, clucking his tongue in disapproval of the chuckling masses.
His campaign’s angry reaction to the magazine cover shows a stunning lack of political dexterity. It wasn’t always so.
In earlier days, Obama was self-deprecating and light of touch. But something happens as people get closer to Washington, as Obama himself has pointed out in other contexts. A popular story that Obama tells concerns a Las Vegas debate during which he was asked about his weaknesses.
Obama answered that he has trouble keeping up with paper, that his desk is a mess. O.K., it wasn’t knee-slapping hilarious, but it was honest and, therefore, endearing. A real answer from a real person.
In contrast, two of Obama’s contenders, both Washington veterans, responded to the same question with the kind of painful earnestness that makes dogs cynical. As Obama recounts it, one of them said his biggest weakness was that “I’m just so passionate about helping poor people.” The other said, “I’m just so impatient to help the American people solve their problems.”
Obama continues the story: “So then I realize, well, I wish I’d gone last and then I would have known.” (Laughter, applause.) “I’m stupid that way, I thought that when they asked what your biggest weakness was, they asked what your biggest weakness was. And now I know that my biggest weakness is I like to help old ladies across the street.”
Now, that’s funny. And there’s a reason the other two candidates — John “passionate” Edwards and Hillary “impatient” Clinton — aren’t leading the Democratic ticket.
But that was before the Cult Of Obama was cemented into place as the official narrative, right around the time of this messianic MTV moment. As a result, Charles Krauthammer writes, “Americans are beginning to notice Obama’s elevated opinion of himself”:
There’s nothing new about narcissism in politics. Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Nonetheless, has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?
Obama is a three-year senator without a single important legislative achievement to his name, a former Illinois state senator who voted “present” nearly 130 times. As president of the Harvard Law Review, as law professor and as legislator, has he ever produced a single notable piece of scholarship? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is a biography of his favorite subject: himself.
It is a subject upon which he can dilate effortlessly. In his victory speech upon winning the nomination, Obama declared it a great turning point in history — “generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment” — when, among other wonders, “the rise of the oceans began to slow.” As Hudson Institute economist Irwin Stelzer noted in his London Daily Telegraph column, “Moses made the waters recede, but he had help.” Obama apparently works alone.
Obama may think he’s King Canute, but the good king ordered the tides to halt precisely to refute sycophantic aides who suggested that he had such power. Obama has no such modesty.
After all, in the words of his own slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” which, translating the royal “we,” means: ” I am the one we’ve been waiting for.” Amazingly, he had a quasi-presidential seal with its own Latin inscription affixed to his lectern, until general ridicule — it was pointed out that he was not yet president — induced him to take it down.
Much like Senator Kerry before him, Obama’s newly discovered humorlessness is a gift to John McCain and his advisors if they’re savvy enough to use it to their advantage, and in a sane world, it would be a gift to late night TV as well, if they only they were smart enough to get their own sympathies out of the way and have some fun for a change:
“Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough slammed the “hacks” at “The Daily Show” on Wednesday for only making fun of Republicans and giving a free pass to Democrats. Discussing a July 15 New York Times piece that described how TV comics and talk show hosts are hesitant to make fun of Barack Obama, Scarborough mocked, “I never want to hear anybody from ‘The Daily Show’ or any of these other shows ever saying again, ‘We speak truth to power.’ ‘Cause you know what they do? They speak truth to Republicans.”
After admitting that Republicans have made many mistakes over the last seven years, the MSNBC host continued to eviscerate the crew at the “The Daily Show” and others: ” But, please, don’t be subversive, because you’re not. Because you’re a hack. You’re a hack for the Democratic Party and you only tell jokes about one side.”
Because Obama is rife for satire, as Kyle Smith notes:
Jimmy Kimmel says comedy writers refuse to make fun of Obama because he’s black: “There’s a weird reverse racism going on.” Others vow that, gee, they’d be wiling to make fun of Obama but, damn, he just hasn’t done anything worthy of making jokes about yet.
Naw, nothing funny about being the first admitted coke user to be nominated by a major party. Nothing funny about palling around with a member of the Weather Underground. Nothing funny about spending 20 years going to the church of a psychotic rage-a-holic preacher who makes Jimmy Falwell look like St. Augustine. Nothing funny about having a wife who said she had never felt proud of her country before. Nothing funny about flippity-flopping on your no. 1 issue–campaign finance–or voting for a surveillance bill you vowed to fillibuster. His problems with quitting smoking alone would be the subject of a million late-night riffs if he were a Republican.
Comics insist they’re equal-opportunity offenders but they’re really not. When they talk about making jokes about Obama, they shy away from anything whose punchline implies some failing and go off-roading into neutral comedy territory like his father’s goat-herding or his habit of tying everything into his talking points. Kimmel suggests going for laughs by making fun of Obama’s ears. Hard-hitting stuff, James. A writer for Letterman suggests that the audience won’t go for any racist stuff. True, but so what? There’s nothing racist about mocking cokeheads or wobbly principles.
As Kyle wrote, it’s “Day Five since Barack Obama’s camp revealed he has suffered an acute humorectomy”; if, as Joe Scarborough wrote above, a similarly humor-challenged conservative were discovered (cough–Quayle–cough), they’d circle around him like sharks getting their first taste of chum.
Well, have it fellas–the water’s fine, if you’re willing to dip a
fin toe in. Even Jon Stewart says so.