Thursday, February 16, 2012

No joke: Presidential candidates lack punch lines

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 11:50 AM

Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and taught at the University of Montana. He occasionally writes op-ed columns, and recently submitted this one on the lack of humor in this year's presidential race.

“With the fearful strain that is upon me day and night, I fear that if I could not laugh, I would die.” —Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln’s humor, in fact any humor, seems noticeably absent from this season’s presidential campaigns. The candidates’ emotions seem limited to reverence, hostility, pomposity and aloofness—each of which, without the spark of humor, presents a questionable image for whoever takes the Presidential oath next January.

Let us first consider the original nine Republican candidates, most of whom have suspended their campaigns. None of them has demonstrated the ability to use humor, either through the telling of a meaningful funny story or through the use of a sharp political sally. Perhaps the candidates avoid humor because of the hard times in which we seem mired. If so, they are misreading both the public’s need to laugh as well as the national restorative powers of a smiling, optimistic people. Our difficult period of war and a poor economy call out for the levity of Ronald Reagan, the clever and funny banter of Jack Kennedy, the wise use of wit by Franklin Roosevelt. Those men understood that wit deflects the solemn, and knew, too, that laughter is good medicine. Wisdom, wit and eloquence have not been common attributes among most of our Presidents, but we have seldom been faced with nine candidates, all of whom seem incapable of original, spontaneous humor.

Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana, and now lives in Missoula.
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana, and now lives in Missoula.

Former candidate Herman Cain was correct. We should all smile more, but he himself seemed devoid of humor. Of the remaining front runners, Santorum is too secure in his finger-pointing and preaching, Gingrich has amply demonstrated that pomposity leaves little room for humor. Paul is too certain and insistent and Romney seems too severely artificial to ever crack an original funny. On the Democratic side “No Drama Obama” has an attractive and blazing smile but seems to not fully understand that his job is to make us smile. Each of the candidates, excepting perhaps Ron Paul, has an almost disembodied intelligence, unattended by core beliefs thus permitting them to easily place politics above policy. In this time of great challenge, there is nothing funny about candidates bereft of solid policy beliefs.

The valued “transparency” in government is more assured when those in charge substitute humor for delusion…because wit and truth are dance partners. Public officials with a sense of humor are usually informed by intuition and enriched by feeling.

Sixty years ago one of the wisest and most humorous men to ever run for President, Adlai Stevenson, said, “Solemnity in politicians is not only tiresome, but might mask those twin sins of self-righteousness and intolerance for the opinions of others.

Give us hope—make us laugh.

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