It was fun seeing House Speaker John Boehner the other day, faking indignation, pounding on the lectern, raising his voice to attack President Obama for mixing politics and the presidency on his recent trips.
Boehner usually has the self-satisfied look of the manager of a very lucrative golf course, but he managed to look indignant, accusing the President of campaigning on the taxpayers’ dime.
I wonder if this cost the taxpayer as much as flying President George Bush to an aircraft carrier at sea, so he could hop out of a fighter jet in a flight jacket, to proclaim victory in Iraq! As far as I know, President Obama isn’t going around to campuses with a banner reading “mission accomplished.”
Of course, the Republicans have always been pretty good at feigning outrage. Remember Senator Joe McCarthy? He ranted on the Senate floor that there were communists under every U.S. bed, all working on orders from the Soviet Union! (“We’ve got trouble my friends, trouble right here in River City!”)
A lot of Americans ate this stuff up, even though the Red Scare turned out to be a tempest in a teapot. (Pun intended.)
The GOP lost a mainstay of their fear-based foreign policy when the Soviet Empire turned out to be wearing no clothes. They’ve been trying ever since to co-opt global terrorism, but the Democrats weren’t caught flat-footed this time. For quite a while, they supported every dumb anti-terrorist idea Bush and Cheney came up with.
FDR was a master at radio, but many of his major speeches before an audience were also filmed, showing an ebullient speaker who could use humor and sarcasm with a light but devastating touch.
In his second campaign, he ridiculed Republicans who claimed they supported Social Security, by imitating them: “Of course we believe in those things! But we do not like the way the administration is doing them.” (A sly grin appears.) “Just turn them all over to us. We will do all of them, we will do more of them, we will do them better — ” (The grin turns into a broad smile.) “And best of all, it won’t cost anybody anything!” FDR joined the audience in laughing uproariously.
The Democrats tend to do humor better than Republicans, though it doesn’t always spell success. Adlai Stevenson was a witty, sophisticated man, yet he lost twice to Eisenhower. When you think of Dukakis, Carter, Mondale and Kerry, none of them were comfortable being funny or even capable of it. Television has made it harder to stand there and read scripted jokes.
Jack Kennedy raised the ante. Not only could he get laughs, he could use humor to deflect or deflate hostile questions. On television, you had to be quick-witted or at least seem to be. Clinton was good at that, George H.W Bush, not so much. Dubya was about as quick as cement drying, yet he won because Gore and Kerry never really could fake the laid-back image.
We now have a President who’s quick in a cool way that we may not see for a while. We have seen all the GOP prospects and the only funny one was Rick Perry (not on purpose.) The party of Reagan, the ultimate charmer, now consists of sourpusses and scolds. The Democrats need to find someone for 2016 who is smart and charismatic. She‘ll be up against a bunch of stiffs, so a sense of humor certainly couldn’t hurt.