I recently penned a piece in this space describing how Hollywood comedians refuse to hit President Obama. They claim he’s unmockable – which is itself a mockery. Obama is the most mockable president in American history. And it took Mitt Romney to show it.
Last week, at the annual Al Smith Dinner in New York City, Romney took a good-natured look at the Obama record. And it was knock-down, drag out funny. Here were some of his best lines:
I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening, because he’ll laugh at anything.
Of course we’re down to the final months of the president’s term. As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and refinery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute.
In the spirit of Sesame Street, the president’s remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter “O” and the number $16 trillion.
Campaigns can be grueling, exhausting. President Obama and I are each very lucky to have one person who is always in our corner, someone who we can lean on, and someone who is a comforting presence. Without whom, we wouldn’t be able to go another day. I have my beautiful wife Ann, he has Bill Clinton.
President Obama’s humor was also funny, but oddly defeatist in the sense that it was at his own expense. Here were some of his best lines:
This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently. As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.
Although it turns out millions of Americans focused in on the second debate who didn’t focus in on the first debate — and I happen to be one of them. I particularly want to apologize to Chris Matthews. Four years ago, I gave him a thrill up his leg; this time around, I gave him a stroke.
Monday’s debate is a little different because the topic is foreign policy. Spoiler alert, we got Bin Laden.
There’s something else worth noting about the comparative humor between the candidates. Obama’s humor was largely self-effacing; Mitt Romney’s humor was far more aggressive. That’s because Obama recognizes that he’s seen as mean and nasty at this point in the election cycle, and he wants to walk back that perception. Losers poke fun at themselves when it comes to the Al Smith Dinner; winners poke fun at their opponents.
Back in 2008, John McCain actually admitted that he was the underdog in the election, and proceeded to tell jokes targeting Bill Clinton and himself. Barack Obama aimed his fire squarely at McCain and the wealthy. Guess who won?
Humor is a weapon. And it hasn’t been wielded well by anyone on the Republican side of the political aisle since Ronald Reagan. Humor humanizes. And Mitt Romney went a long way toward humanizing himself at the Al Smith Dinner.
His increasing humanity in the public eye, in fact, is probably why his favorable ratings have been climbing steadily ever since the first presidential debate. According to the Pew Research Center, Romney has actually overcome Obama in the likability ratings – his favorability is 50 percent, compared with Obama’s 49 percent. Gallup agrees: Romney leads 49-48. Just eight months ago, Obama led Romney by a margin of 55 percent to 29 percent.
The greatest obstacle for Romney going into this election cycle was whether, after the dehumanization of hundreds of millions of attack ads, he could be restored as a decent human being in the eyes of the electorate. And he has gone a long way toward doing it. The more the American public sees of Romney, the more they like him. And the more they see of President Obama, the more they don’t. That’s why the media has made it its mission to stop the public from seeing Romney. As Romney joked at the Dinner:
I never suggest that the — that the press is biased. I recognize that they have their job to do, and I have my job to do. My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country, and their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it.
Humor cuts through the nonsense. It’s no coincidence that our most successful presidents have been funny. And it’s no coincidence that our funniest candidates have become president.
All of which bodes well for Mitt Romney.
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