With 15 months still remaining in this long, long campaign cycle, you might think that the process would have already lost its amusement value. Perhaps there is still some humor to be extracted from this political battle, but we may be nearing the end.
In general, the Republicans are not very funny. Among them, Mitt Romney has a certain manufactured, anthropomorphic quality that makes humor either misplaced and awkward, or even actually impossible.
The one Republican candidate with any genuine comedic streak is John McCain, but he is amusing in a wry way that is difficult to appreciate through the media. He is palliative and best administered in person. His campaign is in well-publicized financial difficulty, but he appears to be unperturbed, and if he gets the nomination, he is liable to become less funny and will transmogrify into a dour and formidable adversary. By the way, he’s the one serious candidate with genuine military experience.
Rudy Giuliani has no military experience, but many people equate being the mayor of New York with exposure to sustained, intense combat, and so Rudy gets some constructive credit. Although he laughs readily and has a good sense of humor, he still impresses many people as the strictly business junkyard dog he was when he served as a prosecutor. We’ve seen him in drag, and he can joke with the best of them, but he’s not a vaudeville act, it’s sad to say.
But nobody provides more laughs of high quality than the Democrats. Being a politician of any party is a risk factor for foot-in-mouth disease. But except for G.W. Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the Democrats suffer a chronic form that is unique to their political party.
They are quite silly in a group, as we saw in last week’s panel on gay and lesbian issues, hosted by Melissa Etheridge. She couldn’t have made Gov. Bill Richardson look more laughably uncomfortable if she had asked him, and he had misidentified, his own state capital. Barack Obama’s church is in favor of gay marriage, but he managed to object to it on, of all things, religious grounds. And few politicians can beat the inchoate comedic value of Denis Kucinich, who is instantly hilarious on a number of levels.
But they are quite silly on their own, too, and Obama should be considered the headliner, after averring a few weeks ago that he would dispatch American troops to Pakistan to root out terrorists, with or without Pakistan’s permission. The reverberation of Obama’s words can still be heard in Islamabad, where President Musharraf is already in trouble and needs observations like Obama’s about as much as both he and the United States need more Taliban in South Waziristan. And Hillary Clinton has wasted no time pointing to his gaffe as evidence that this dangerous world will eat Obama alive.
Now, nobody ever accused Obama of being a military and strategic genius, and so far, to paraphrase Andy Warhol, he is famous only for being famous. He is an interesting and engaging speaker, but there is a certain puerile quality in his rhetoric and reasoning that is personally attractive but genuinely undesirable in one who aspires to a position of great leadership. Ironically, in his childlike inexperience and penchant to bloviate, he reminds one of George W. Bush.
Pitted against the strident Hillary, a veteran of many political and personal wars, he is highly motivated to demonstrate that he has higher levels of testosterone than she. It’s easy to castigate Obama for having no understanding of military subjects, particularly the feasibility of those complex and risky operations that would be required to execute raids into the unforgiving terrain of the Hindu Kush. But one expects that someone as bright as Obama ought to have some grasp that he isn’t a military expert, or a foreign policy expert, and that he shouldn’t offer untutored solutions to complicated subjects that expose him to ridicule and, more damagingly, the assessment that he doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about.
In the comfort of her campaign headquarters, Hillary may be laughing at Obama’s adolescent foolishness, but don’t look for her to cut him any slack any time soon.
Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also has three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.