William Hazlitt on Barack Obama, Or: Why the Ridiculous Is no Laughing Matter

I, too, snorted in disbelief when I first heard about this. What a tacky, indelicate thing to do! In one stroke, Obama has made himself a laughing stock, rendered himself ridiculous, and assured that he will be the butt of comedians for weeks if not months.

But here’s the thing to remember. We often assume that someone who is ridiculously contemptible is therefore not dangerous. History shows that, on the contrary, the ridiculous can easily cohabit with the malevolent. The fact that someone is a preening buffoon provides absolutely no assurance that he is not also a grasping egomaniac. The last few weeks have not been kind to Barack Obama. The skies are filled with chickens coming home to roost. The scent of panic among Democrats is palpable as the gaffes multiply, the economy lurches, and the money-machine dries up. We can expect greater and greater exhibitionist spectacles, orgies of moral browbeating, and Chicago-style gutter ad hominem attacks.  Some of this will be simply preposterous, like the AttackWatch web site (remember that?) or the suggestion that we forgo Junior’s new bicycle and instead send the dough to the president’s reelection campaign. But don’t be lulled by the preposterousness of these gambits of desperation into thinking that their perpetrators, because ridiculous, are therefore harmless. It turns out that, in the world of politics, what is ridiculous is often no laughing matter.