-St. Stephen, noted first century ad-libber
TEST your psychic abilities! Here's the fourth line from the third paragraph of Dickerson's piece:
Great presidents who faced trying times were known for their humor.
See if you can
I don't think the Press cares for that Mommy stuff. Because the Press has no sense of humor about itself.
Okay, so it's usually reported as Honey. Maybe he called Nancy something different in public (even with a couple of slugs in him) than he did in private. Either way, that one's a funnier line than the doctor quip, which I'm guessing he may have used in some form or another a few hundred times.
Don't get me wrong; just because I think Ronald Reagan was more caustic substance than caustic wit it doesn't mean I object to anyone characterizing him as funny. Sure, I wasn't amused, and I think there's a real debate to be had over whether Reagan was genuinely funny or just a trained seal It's the fact that once I saw the sign which read "Presidential Humor Litany Next 3 mi." I fucking knew, not only that Reagan would be on the list, but that he'd bring up the rear, like movie credits where a half-day's work by De Niro or Brando netted him the screen-filling "and So-and-So" slot at the end of the actors' scroll.
Because, say you're John Dickerson, and you're writing a piece focusing on the humor deficiencies, as opposed to the charm deficiencies, the intellectual deficiencies, or the complete absence of personal honor among the current crop of Republican Presidential hopefuls. Say you need to fill up a few column inches with historical comparisons. Okay, you have two Presidents who were paragons of wit and humor: Lincoln and FDR. You have one who was funny enough to've been a standup if he hadn't been born six or seven decades too early; dollars to doughnuts says "Silent Cal" would be on NBC's lineup these days.
But if you use Coolidge you're up to three, and you haven't named any Presidents much of the Slate readership will be familiar with. (There's not much else; Grant once remarked that he knew only two songs, that one was "Yankee Doodle" and the other wasn't. But we aren't writing an anthology here. I understand John Tyler did a withering impression of Henry Clay once he was on his third sherry, and there was something funny about James Buchanan, but that's it; the modern Slate writer has got to go modern.)
George W. Bush was funny, in the same way that setting plastic Army men ablaze with a magnifying glass or obliterating prairie dogs with high-powered rifles are, but reminding your fellow Slatesters how they lined up behind that bozo in Aught One probably gets your tray tipped in the employee cafeteria.
Besides, imagine writing a piece these days on Presidential humor and leaving out Reagan. It would be like naming The 100 Greatest Rock Guitarists and leaving out Eddie Van Halen. How much email do you want to have to answer, anyway?
So the obvious solution is to include Reagan, and put him at the end, following Kennedy. The cultured Brahmin and the trained performer. And the twin fonts of horrible Oval Office decisions of the last half-century.
The point is that whether you've actually mistaken John McCain's "Chelsea Clinton, the White House dog" jocularity for wit, or are just dong the standard Beltway insider genuflection toward the Reagan Ranch, you're going to miss the obvious answer to your question. Why are the current crop of Republican Presidential hopefuls (not to mention the rest of the party) so unfunny?
Because while a blind pig can find a joke as easy as an acorn, real humor requires honesty.
And not personal honesty, necessarily; honesty of purpose. The only way most of those guys could have a standup act would be as insult comics. They've got the nasty down, but not the speed of wit (Gingrich has the speed of wit, but not the quality of wit; like all Republican would-be quippers he's never worked a house that didn't applaud louder the worse he got). And there's no way in Hell any of 'em will admit that that's their natural line. Are there Christian insult comics? Some deadpan Mormon wiseass who just hasn't yet broken out of the burgeoning Provo scene?
This isn't necessarily any less true of Democrats. But let's be honest about it, huh? What've we got to lose? Republicans aren't funny because they're all either True Believers or pretending to be True Believers, and neither group is permitted any levity. It's not a matter of "convincing" Mitt Romney he should lighten up. What we see out there is Mitt Romney lightened up. Consider what passes for humor from Newt Gingrich, and imagine Rick Santorum swinging for the fences sometime. Even those of us who'd appreciate a Santorum candidacy in the opposite sense that George Eff Will will don't want to see that.
Mr. Dickerson, the reason you guys want to see some human traits on that Republican dais is just so you'd have something to dwell on besides the truth. But if you'll just report honestly, the jokes'll take care of themselves.