Monday, March 14, 2005

On Low Humor in High Places

The Washington Post has a piece about the increasing amount of humor to be found in President Bush's second term speeches. One of my favorite jokes included in the article goes like this:
At a town meeting in Little Rock last month, Bush was joined onstage by Gloria Bennett, a part-time food inspector.

"I'm from De Queen, Arkansas," she told the president.

"That," Bush replied, nodding, "is right next to De King."
At the risk of affirming the consequent, I'd like to point out that I have told jokes that are frequently received poorly. Perhaps I could be president! What I really wonder about affirming, however, is the use of humor in these speeches. Is it decorous for the President of the United States to be delivering not just jokes, but bad ones? Is a president's material different from a stand-up's? Doesn't social security reform or energy policy demand a more austere atmosphere to be created by the president's words? In the end, Mark Leibovich article doesn't dwell too much on these questions, apart from pointing out that politicians frequently use humor. But Liebovich does at least offer a psychological hook for readers:
But people close to Bush say his recent comic releases reflect a noticeably more relaxed presidential disposition. Since the Iraqi elections in January and his well-received State of the Union speech a few days later, Bush, according to aides, has been much more willing to toss out what-the-heck quips in public, reflecting the attitude of someone who has nothing to lose, or run for.
Actually, all of this humor from high places reminds me of an interview in this week's New York Times Magazine. Deborah Solomon interviews Charlie Jarvis the next CEO of a senior citizen activism group, USA Next and former under secretary of the Department of Interior. Many of Jarvis' answers are funny:
[Solomon] You previously worked for Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian group that recently dubbed Sponge Bob Square Pants a promoter of homosexuality.

[Jarvis] I call him Sponge Robert Square Pants because I don't know him well.

[Solomon] Do you care if your sons vote Democratic?

[Jarvis] They have to make those decisions for themselves. I mean, I am going to beat them with a rubber hose if they do!

[Solomon] As a leading critic of Social Security, how do you plan to support yourself in your old age?

[Jarvis] I'm 55. I don't think of myself as getting older. I think of myself as maturing.

[Solomon] Your comment suggests that you are currently immature.

[Jarvis] My wife insists that I am.


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