Sunday, October 07, 2007

Something about humor . . . or a lack thereof

Through about a 10-step surfing expedition beginning from Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church, . . . I discovered that FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt) could be quite a humorist.

This is from a September 1944 campaign speech he made to the Teamsters:

These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him - at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars- his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself - such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.

While I'm on the subject of humor, however, let me note two of the stops I made on my way to reading FDR's comment.

I didn't first bump into the two of them in the sentence, "How they laugh doesn't tell you much; what they're cackling at says a lot: Conservatives Are Such Jokers."

I believe the sentence should actually read, "How they laugh, sadly, can tell you a lot; and what they're cackling at can reveal more than you'd like to know."

The first reference is to an article about Hillary Clinton's laughter. (I don't watch TV nor do I listen to radio, so I can make no personal comments on her behavior.)

The second reference is to an Op-Ed piece by Paul Krugman in the New York Times. When I read what he wrote, assuming he is telling the truth, I found myself truly disgusted.

As a libertarian (notice I am not using a capital L!), I do not believe the government should be providing the benefits Krugman and others seem to think it ought to provide. BUT. I hate to find my anti-government-funded-services position represented by "humor" of the forms he quotes:

Ronald Reagan thought the issue of hunger in the world’s richest nation was nothing but a big joke. Here’s what Reagan said in his famous 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing,” which made him a national political figure: “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.” . . .

On Wednesday, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded S-chip . . . providing health insurance to an estimated 3.8 million children who would otherwise lack coverage.

In anticipation of the veto, William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, had this to say: “First of all, whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it’s a good idea. I’m happy that the president’s willing to do something bad for the kids.” Heh-heh-heh. . . .

Before the last election, the actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s and has become an advocate for stem cell research that might lead to a cure, made an ad. . . . It was an effective ad, in part because Mr. Fox’s affliction was obvious.

And Rush Limbaugh . . . immediately accused Mr. Fox of faking it. “In this commercial, he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking. And it’s purely an act.” Heh-heh-heh. . . .

I believe that the lack of empathy shown by Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Kristol, and, yes, Mr. Bush is genuine, not feigned.


Krugman goes on:

Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.

By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even grammatical when he talks about punishing people; that’s when he’s speaking from the heart. The only animation Mr. Bush showed during the flooding of New Orleans was when he declared “zero tolerance of people breaking the law,” even those breaking into abandoned stores in search of the food and water they weren’t getting from his administration.



Okay. Now I'm going to wander away from the primary subject of humor (or lack thereof).


Way down the page of commentary in response to the blog article from which I quoted the single-sentence reference to both Hillary and Krugman, someone objected to Krugman's reference to Miller and his "Dyslexicon":

All? . . . Did Mr. Miller say "all [Bush malapropisms]"? Here's a genuine Miller quote: "It's mainly when he tries to feign idealism or compassion that the man [Bush] stops speaking his own native language."


I have confessed it before. I will confess it again. I am a relative innocent when it comes to politics. I occasionally take a glimpse at what the politicians are saying or doing. Mostly, however, I remain blissfully ignorant of the primary parties' shenanigans.

I thought the immediately preceding commentator made some interesting observations, however, when he said,

As Altemeyer shows, certain relatively extreme political attitudes do tend to cluster together, and people in those clusters do tend to behave, politically, in somewhat predictable ways. The followers are not the same as the leaders, though. Altemeyer, for example, shows that right-wing authoritarian followers have definite egalitarian and socialist tendencies (as long as the socialism part isn't benefitting people outside their own group identity. . . .)

Followers have political attitudes. Leaders appeal to the attitudes, in order to pursue goals and policies. An attitude is not the same as a policy, and appealing to a political attitude is not sharing it.

Krugman's column could be viewed as having several partisan purposes, but whatever those purposes, its context is partisan division.

I suppose that my mixed feelings have to do with a David Broder-like wish for the kind of politics [another respondent to the original blog post--JH] projects onto the unlikely figure of William Kristol: "we should judge policies by a careful examination of the substance" where compromise in a deliberative legislative process would improve laws and programs, a world where liberal soft-heartedness is balanced by a good-natured conservative hard-headedness, and everyone wants the good of the country.

That's not the present state of our politics and partisan divisions, though. Our times are calling for sterner stuff.

This guy's comment about "right-wing authoritarian followers hav[ing] definite egalitarian and socialist tendencies" intrigued me. But I wasn't sure whether I really believed it until I read someone else's comment further below:

In regards to right-wing socialism. The military has free medical care for active and retired members, as well as access to reduced prices at the PX and commisary. Military people expect this for their own, but in general are right-wing and opposed to "socialism" for the rest of society.


blog comments powered by Disqus