No Laughing Matter

One belief I’ve held for a long time is that an essential quality about being elected president — and serving successfully as president — is a sense of humor. I wrote about that extensively in 2004 — I believe that a person’s sense of humor is a key to their personality, and reflects how they see the world and cope with it. In that last election, we were given the choice between George W. Bush’s self-effacing jabs at himself versus John “I have great hair” Kerry.

Well, as has almost always been the case, the candidate who was perceived as being generally more humorous won in 2004. The American people tend to put more trust and faith in a president who can laugh at himself, who can tell a joke, who can express himself in a genial and good-natured way. The only times that rule didn’t apply was when both candidates came across as overly humorous — 1964 through 1976 was a particularly grim era, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Carter are consistently ranked among our worst presidents.

So, on that standard, how do the two presumptive nominees stand up?

John McCain has no problems laughing, and laughing at himself. He’s appeared on Saturday Night Live a couple of times, poking fun at himself. Hell, I still laugh over his “McCain Sings Streisand” — for ME to call someone a bad singer is a hell of a thing. And last week, he showed up on Conan O’Brien and played along with the “John McCain is really, really old” theme, even pretending to fall asleep on the couch.

On the other hand, we have Barack Obama. What does he find funny?

Beats the hell out of me.

I can’t recall ever laughing with Senator Obama. Oh, sure, we’ve all laughed AT him, but never WITH him.

And it’s not like he hasn’t had opportunities. He also did Saturday Night Live, where he showed up at a costume party — as himself. But for the vast majority of his appearances, he’s come across as earnest and stiff and formal and serious. I might have heard him chuckle once or twice, but it’s always come across as a deflection, a stall, a verbal tic to buy himself time to compose just the right answer.

Even Hillary Clinton came across as funnier than Obama. When she showed up at the Daily Show, they set it up with Stewart having some technical problems. Hillary walked on stage and immediately started fixing everything in sight, barking out orders like a tech guru and instantly putting everything shipshape. I couldn’t help but laugh.

So, I find myself wondering: just what does Barack Obama find funny? What makes him laugh? What does he say or do when he wants other people to laugh?

On the surface, it’s an incredibly shallow question. It shouldn’t be the sole determining factor in choosing our next president. But as I said, I think it speaks volumes about the essential character of a person. It shows us a little of how their mind works, of how they think and feel, of their outlook on life in general.

And that, I believe, is essential to making an informed decision when we cast our ballots next November.

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