The Politico reported last week that Barack Obama, on the stump, worried that “GOP attackers” were trying to make voters “lose focus on the issues….and try[ing] to make me out to be a risky, scary guy.”
To show how unscary and unrisky, he is, Obama quipped, “Now I must say: I don’t find myself particularly scary or particularly risky.”
This joke should immediately make all Americans of good humor wonder: Are you actually comfortable with giving him access to the largest centralized nuclear stockpile in the world?
Obama is not a threat to the Republic because of his radical politics. Rather, his humor is the more clear and present danger. He’s as funny as a laser guided toothache
The problem isn’t that Obama attempts jokes now and again that don’t come off. The problem is that his humor is completely chilly. His repertoire is an awkward collection of self-conscious half jokes. And whenever he thinks on his feet to come up with a quick retort, the results are decidedly sub-sub-par.
At a campaign event last month, the late Bernie Mac was telling jokes borrowed from insult comic Andrew Dice Clay, and thus, not well-suited for a political event. According to the Chicago Tribune, Obama appeared unsure what to do with this.
Obama thanked “my great friend, one of the kings of comedy, Bernie Mac,” but then later told the audience that Mac should “clean up” his routine because “this is a family affair.”
Or not. “I’m just messing with you man,” Obama said.
Afterward, the campaign actually put out a statement to put some distance between Obama and the inappropriateness of Mac’s jokes. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Obama had clearly “told Bernie Mac that he doesn’t condone these statements and believes what was said was inappropriate.”
A Sister Soulja moment this wasn’t, no matter how Obama’s handlers try to spin it. Rather, anyone paying attention learned the inconvenient truth about Obama: He doesn’t get jokes.
GENERALLY SPEAKING, there are two themes for Obama “jokes”: “I’m Great,” and “I’m Only Pretty Great.”
In June, Obama spoke to a crowd of excited Chicagoans celebrating the city’s successful bid for the 2016 Olympics. He said that the city “is going to win the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. And your Senator — he’s winning too!”
Any decent, God fearing bad joke teller would have stopped there, but not our Barack. He continued, “I’m just going to be able to walk over there. I might have to rent out my house, I don’t know how much its going to be worth. And I also, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to let you know that in 2016 I’ll be wrapping up my second term as president.”
That was an “I’m Great” joke. For an “I’m Only Pretty Great” joke, here’s Obama fawning over dancetastic former running back Emmitt Smith:
“Emmitt, what can’t you do?” Obama asked as he turned towards the charismatic star. “You haven’t found anything yet. Unbelievable.”
“I’m just glad he’s not running for president,” Obama joked.
That’s supposed to be funny, see, because Emmitt Smith isn’t running for president. So Obama can breathe a fake sigh of relief.
Ronald Reagan’s great moment of humor came at a time when he was on the brink of death by gunshot wound. As he was being wheeled into the hospital, he said to his doctors, “I hope you’re all Republicans.” Obama himself mentioned in an editorial meeting with the Reno-Gazette Journal that he aspires to achieve Reagan levels of adoration, but he can’t even crack a joke better than Bill Clinton, a person who never enjoyed the true believer fanbase Obama has had. (Parents, thank your lucky stars.)
When speaking about why he chose Al Gore to tackle federal regulatory reform, President Clinton responded, “I asked him to do it because he was the only person that I could trust to read all 150,000 pages in the Code of Federal Regulations.”
This conveyed to others that Clinton was like you, that is, just as bored by the intricacies as you might be. Reagan also thrived when it came to packaging policy into something fit for public consumption.
By contrast, Obama errs on the side of placing himself along other icons, even if in an almost-self deprecating fashion, such as in this much-referenced line: “I am so overexposed, I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse.”
When McCain’s campaign noticed that similarity themselves, they ran an ad ripping on Obama’s celebrity. But within days, it was Paris Hilton, not Obama, who managed to win the funny contest with a few solid shots about McCain’s age.
Let us be clear. When your sense of humor is eclipsed by the intentional humor of Paris Hilton, you need to hire a better joke-writer. (In fact, John Cleese offered to write for the campaign but was rebuffed.)
Obama’s 26-year-old chief speechwriter Jon Favreau shared a personal anecdote with the New York Times on the theme of what Obama finds funny:
It turns out that when the Chicago White Sox “swept Mr. Favreau’s beloved Red Sox three games to none in their American League 2005 division series,” Obama was in a gloating mood. So he “walked over to his speechwriter’s desk with a little broom and started sweeping it off.”
ACTUALLY, THERE IS a third theme: cliche race jokes. Indeed, the man who is supposed to be above that sort of thing not only goes there, he goes there with some frequency.
At a South Carolina Democratic debate, Obama declined to state whether Bill Clinton had qualified as, in Toni Morrison’s words, “the first black president” because “I would have to investigate more Bill’s dancing abilities, you know, some of this other stuff before I accurately judged whether he was in fact a ‘brother.'”
Or at an event in Atlanta he told a young, mostly black crowd “You can’t find a job unless you are a really, really good basketball player. Which most of you brothers are not. I know you think you are. But you’re not.
“You are overrated in your own mind. You will not play in the NBA. You are probably not that good a rapper. Maybe you are the next Little Wayne, but probably not. In which case you need to stay in school.”
Most of his attempts at humor are mixed with “I’m Great” jokes. The Emmitt Smith joke came with a reference to Obama’s popular talk show appearance in which he shimmied with Ellen DeGeneres. (The public swooned at his stiff dancing, because at least it wasn’t as stiff as Al Gore or John Kerry.) The go-to-school joke only works because you wouldn’t expect the Senator Barack Obama to name check “Lil Wayne.”
Slate‘s Chris Beam observed that Obama actually “laughs at his own jokes, a staccato ‘heh’ that sounds naked when spoken into a mic in a large auditorium.” He’s laughing at us.
J. Peter Freire is managing editor of The American Spectator and a 2008 Phillips Fellow.