Obama scores points by poking fun at Romney’s fusty elocution.
I predict that one day, future political humorologists will look back at Election 2012 and identify the precise moment when one presumptive presidential nominee launched the first effective on-message joke against the other. They will be scrolling through some old C-SPAN footage of President Barack Obama’s remarks at the Associated Press luncheon and get about 19 minutes in when he says these words:
“One of my potential opponents, Governor Romney…said that he’s very supportive of this new [House Republican] budget. And he even called it ‘marvelous’—which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget.”
The tape will reveal that an audience of editors and journalists responded to this gentle jibe with a tittering of laughter, which visibly pleased Obama. In fact, from the delighted expression on his face, it seemed to set off an interior monologue that you can just about hear. (At least I can.)
They laughed! Of course they laughed! ‘A marvelous budget?’ Who talks like that—Gov. Thurston Howell III? Mitt might as well have called it the ‘bee’s knees.’
Just then a sudden smirk indicates that the president has arrived at a funny thought, setting internal editing sensors on Red Alert. He thinks: Do I say it? Dare I say it? Oh my God—I think I’m gonna say it…
Then he says it: “...It’s a word you don’t often hear generally.”
Paydirt! With that joke and the loud laughter it elicited, Obama effectively underscored Romney’s status as “Other.” And what a delicious irony it was. In this week of Campaign 2012, when many savvy pundits were pointing out how Romney projected his own vulnerabilities upon Obama (Out of Touch! Flip-flopper! Medicare-cutter! Harvard elitist!), the President found a way to tattoo Mitt with the very same characteristic which the right wing has tried to pin on Obama: otherness. To the careful listener, the president’s joke asked the question: Hey Karl Rove, how does otherness feel on the other foot?
Romney repeats his Michigan gaffes, and Santorum makes a Freudian slip.
When Mitt Romney gets mocked for something he says, you can bet $10,000 that he’ll say it again the next day. Why? Evidence suggests that Mitt Romney likes doubling down.
After Mitt’s recently ridiculed ode to the Michigan trees that are “just the right height,” his scribes surely crossed it out from his next remarks. But Mitt, I’d wager, penciled them back in. (In fact, the Huffington Post reports that he rescued this head-scratcher from the trash heap of his 2008 campaign.)
And so: on the heels of his poorly received comment about his wife’s many Cadillacs, look for Mitt to mention at least two Cadillacs at his next opportunity. Rather than back down, Mitt Romney stands up to those who practice the bitter politics of envy.
Reiteration of his ridiculed remarks appears to be a matter of principle of this GOP hopeful. Case in point: Mitt has boldly and uncompromisingly neglected to heed your own Tactical Humorist’s heartfelt pleas to stop reciting the words to “America the Beautiful,” posted repeatedly in this space. For those keeping count (besides me), here is the latest shameless reiteration of his artless gimmick for the voters of Michigan:
As a candidate whose primary flaw is said to be his lack of “core principles,” perhaps Mitt is wise to hold fast to these signature sentiments, no matter how odd or poorly received. Rather than strike them from future remarks, Mitt chooses to repeat them as an act of defiance, as if to say, “Well, I could go either way on the constitutionality of individual mandates but, gosh darn it, these trees in Michigan ARE just the right height!” The point is, at least he is willing to stand for something, come heck or high water. But doubling down is just another form of stubbornness, so be sure to pick your spots carefully.
Tell Me About Your Mother, Rick.
Decoding the laugh track of the CNN Debate in Arizona, featuring references to George Costanza and bogeyman Mike Dukakis.
Newt Shaves Tussle With Occam’s Razor
It was a tense moment. Mitt Romney was beating an opponent around the head and neck about his own earmarks as Santorum struggled to find the exact right Washington jargon to explain how Congress works to an Arizona Tea Party audience. Fortunately for everyone, Newt Gingrich was there to serve as referee—with a relaxed demeanor and an enormous purple tie—ready to break up this hockey fight.
“I think it was totally appropriate for you to ask for what you got,” Gingrich said to Romney. “I just think it’s kind of silly for you to then turn around and run an ad attacking somebody else for getting what you got—and then claiming what you got wasn’t what they got—because what you got was right and what they got was wrong.”
This response was 1) classic Gingrich, 2) politically smart, and 3) an impressively succinct and funny take on the exchange that was formulated in real time. Just another reminder that Newt is skilled at describing the absurdities he sees—even as he is blind to those he creates. But his distillation of this absurdity was not nearly as above the fray as it first appeared: it was a merciful defense of Santorum, with whom Gingrich has formed a Michigan non-aggression pact. Newt is less interested in arguments about earmarks in Arizona than in the prospect of Santorum giving Mitt a black eye in Michigan.
Dukakis Derision, Part Deux
Newt Gingrich offers up different liberal bogeymen for his different opponents. When deriding President Obama, the name you will hear is Saul Alinsky, a harmless and obscure left wing thinker whom the speaker apparently believes makes Obama sound radical and himself sound super-smart. But when disparaging Mitt Romney, the proper noun you will almost always hear is “Mike Dukakis,” who more than 20 years later remains a durable punchline for the GOP base. In Wednesday’s debate, someone else chose to play this otherwise admirable former governor* for too-easy laughs.
Silent Cal was a funny president just by being himself—take note, Mitt Romney.
Is there any other nation on earth so enamored with the idea of a funny chief executive? Ingrained in our anti-monarchistic democracy is a populist pleasure in hearing our presidents make self-deprecating jokes, while comedically jousting with political foes. What else would explain why every spring since 1920 (the year of the first White House Correspondents Association dinner) we have asked our president to deliver a comedy routine instead of, say, recite poems, perform an interpretive dance, or juggle objects of various shapes, sizes, and weights. Even our last president, George W. Bush, managed to oblige our need for presidential humor, exceeding expectations with some playful single entendres.
L-R: Universal History Archive / Getty Images, Alex Wong / Getty Images
Accordingly, presidential historians are prone to rank our chief executives by their sense of humor, assembling a Mt. Rushmore of sorts of stand-up standouts. Not surprisingly, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan almost always top the list. But on this President’s Day of this presidential election year, allow me to nominate another candidate to join the pantheon of funny presidents and explain how his alternative style of humor could be instructive to the current crop of would-be commanders-in-chief. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for our 30th President of the United States, “Silent Cal” Coolidge!
Nestled between Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge survives today as one of the many animatrons in Disneyworld’s Hall of Presidents with a non-speaking part. This would have been his strong preference; like the silent movie stars of his day, Coolidge earned his laughter by way of restraint. Rather than be saddled with a comic persona foisted upon him by others, Coolidge fostered his own: a lackadaisical loafer largely disinterested in his own presidency. It was a high-wire act to be sure, but Calvin Coolidge managed to pull it off.
Coolidge was elected vice president in 1920 and became America’s sixth substitute president when his boss, Warren Harding, died in office. Cal’s interest in the job appeared half-hearted from the moment he was sworn in. His first act as president was going back to bed.
Later in his presidency, a reporter asked him if he had any hobbies. To which he responded: “I hold office.”
His renowned reticence earned him the nickname “Silent Cal,” and one Washington socialite—the daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, no less—famously described him as a man who appeared to have been “weened on a pickle.” At a dinner party, the woman next to Cal tried to engage in conversation by bringing up a bet she had made. She had bet, she told the reticent president, that she could get more than two words out of him. Coolidge’s response: “You lose.”
Coolidge not only insisted on sleeping 12 hours every night; he seemed determined to make that fact well known. During the day, he almost always got in a two-hour nap. What was his explanation? When you’re asleep, you can’t make any bad decisions! Upon waking up, he would reportedly ask his aide, “Is the country still there?” With jokes simultaneously anti-government and self-deprecating, Coolidge invented the presidential brand of humor that Ronald Reagan would later make his signature. Indeed, Coolidge’s fundamental conservatism was well-expressed in jokes like these, as they arose from the idea that America does not need a president—or a government—to be great. Sounds like a Tenth Amendment guy to me!
Mitt Romney bids to humanize himself and President Obama jokes about his daughters’ blossoming sexuality.
Romney on Romney: 'Not Too Quick on the Uptake'
You’re probably thinking: what better way for Mitt to humanize himself than to remind people of the incontrovertible fact that he is the spawn of other humans! “We’re not too quick on the uptake”? That dash of self-deprecation should humanize him for sure!
If only the Romneytron-2012 had not then immediately proceeded into, you guessed it, his pre-programmed “America the Beautiful” routine:
Your Tactical Humorist has previously chronicled this tired and drastically overused bit. As Mitt continues to parrot the performance, more and more Republicans will surely agree with David Letterman and Jon Stewart:
For candidates at CPAC, use of humor is true to form: Mitt is moderate, Santorum is conservative, and Newt is erratic.
The Tin Man’s Ear: Also Made of Tin
Here’s a second helping of umbrage to anyone offended by Romney’s “not concerned about the poor” remark. At CPAC, Mitt opened up with a Republican standby from 2008: community organizing as punch line.
Derisive comments about grassroots democracy are always good for a loud laugh in this crowd, but it didn’t take long for Mitt to reveal his congenital tone-deafness. Watch as he attempts to reimagine his tenure as Massachusetts governor in ways he imagines the audience would prefer to hear:
Severely conservative? What adjectives did Mitt pencil into his draft before landing on that one? Savagely? Brutally? Cruelly? Pitilessly? He might have elicited a smile rather than a cringe had he gone to that reliable standby, “to the right of Attila the Hun.” “Severely conservative” wasn’t exactly a gaffe, but it prompted head shakes of the severe variety from Republicans while providing material for Santorum’s campaign and David Axelrod.
Just another example of Mitt Romney having memorized the conservative prayer book but unable to sing the hymns in tune
All kidding aside, Mitt Romney loves this classic ode to the United States.
It probably all started innocently enough: hoping to stir the patriotic passions of an Iowa audience, the once-and-future GOP frontrunner, Mitt Romney, spoke the poetic lyrics of America the Beautiful. Upon arriving at the “amber waves of grain,” he tossed in this kind-of-humorous aside: “Corn? Does corn count?” Earning him obligatory laughter from polite supporters and the ridicule of late-night comics.
Given that there’s hardly a Romney stump speech that doesn’t incorporate America the Beautiful, it’s not too hard to see where this is going if he were to actually win. Maybe something like this …
MITT ROMNEY’S NOMINATION ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
I love America. I love the hymns and songs of America. There’s one I love in particular.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
You have some lovely skies here in Tampa. Raise your hand if you love the sky! Wow.
Romney gets glitter bombed and tries to sing.
When Bad Things Happen to Robot People
Glitter bombs are just the newest iteration of the old fashioned pie-in-the-face that comes right out of the anarchist playbook. With cameras rolling, the target has only a handful of options to deal with the embarrassing situation.
For instance: after getting pied, you could taste some of it and make a face that says “Hmm, not bad!” Or, if you’re a Republican with the presence of mind to stay on message: “Cutting taxes would have made this pie even bigger!”
Mitt Romney had a wealth of options from which to choose after getting back-to-back glitter bombs in Minnesota. He could have said something like, “Ah, this must be the moon-dust Newt Gingrich sent over!” But instead of improvising he changed the subject to another topic off the top of his head. In this case, his hair.
Like most of Mitt’s attempts at humor, this one smells of mothballs. At least he was smart enough to unwrap the joke that the Letterman writers gifted him for his appearance last December.
Oh Beautiful for Grating Voice
One might suppose that a viral video of your political opponent singing painfully off-key constitutes a fastball down the middle for an easy joke at their expense. This week, both Newt Gingrich and Michelle Obama were smart enough to avoid swinging at this fastball with their foreheads.
In the countdown to Florida, Ron Paul tries to de-crankify, Mitt neuters Newt, and more.
Ron Paul Plays to the Audience
First rule of communicating: know your audience. Second, more difficult rule: know your opponent’s audience.
At the debate last Thursday, three candidates had narrowed their targets: Mitt Romney aimed at Florida’s Newt Gingrich supporters, and vice versa for Gingrich. As those two traded attacks, Rick Santorum’s above-the-fray (a.k.a. ass-kissing) strategy revealed his intended audience: either one of the two likely GOP nominees who might select him to run as vice president.
This left Ron Paul free to unleash a broad-based humor offensive, not predicated on the other candidates but aimed at the many Republicans watching the debate. In other words, the people watching Fox News. Watch as Paul skillfully uses humor to demarginalize his candidacy and de-crankify his persona.
The Phases of the Gingrich: From Full Moon to Waning Crescent
After South Carolina, Newt’s ego was so big it had its own gravitational field.
GOP debates and Obama’s State of the Union bring the laughs.
Uncle President Makes a Funny
With this joke during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Obama elicited the Groan of the Union:
Yes, it was a dumb joke, but was he smart to deliver it? Unfortunately, this joke may be too dumb to withstand closer scrutiny.
Here’s the kindest thing you could say about it: in an effort to demonstrate the nonsensical nature of government regulations, Obama punctuated the point with a nonsensical punchline.
Only after diagramming this joke and breaking down its noun-verb agreements, pronouns, and indirect objects can one conclude that “it” must have been a dairy farmer. A clearer version would have been: “With rules like that, if you were a farmer you’d be crying over spilled milk, too.” Better yet, the president should have crossed it out in his last run-through, leaving it where it probably always belonged—in the trash bin of history.
The Boy Who Cried Baloney
Mark Katz is the founder and principal of the Soundbite Institute, a creative think tank that specializes in on-message humor. At the Tactical Humorist, Katz breaks down the laughs in the 2012 presidential campaign.
When Rick Santorum thumbed his nose at Obama’s drive for higher education, he opened the floodgates for criticism. Watch as Jon Stewart schools him on the actual meaning of a ‘snob.’