Friday, October 29, 2004

The importance of a sense of humor

Earlier this week I heard David Gelernter on Bill Bennett's radio program talking about the necessity for a candidate to have a sense of humor (something John Kerry lacks in an almost pathological way). I gathered that he'd written something recently on the subject, so I got my Google on, and tracked this down. It appears to have been a column in the LA Times, but why would I want to send anyone there? It looks like the whole piece is here, at Midwest Pundits.

Americans have no litmus test for the presidency — but if they did, “sense of humor” might be it. Your sense of humor is an open door that gives other people access to your character, to the person you are. A humorless person is a mystery. We can’t ever know him, so we can’t ever trust him.

American-style democracy makes humor especially important. We don’t look for elevated characters or deep thinkers when we hire a president. We want someone in whom we can recognize ourselves. And we take it for granted that the president must fill the world’s most powerful position with dignity but not get puffed-up about it.

. . .

Bush is not pompous. Bush is not mean. Bush is not wooden. Bush could not be replaced by a humanoid robot without his friends ever noticing. Bush has friends. Bush is never patronizing. Until he ran for president against Kerry, Bush never used to beat people around the head with phony, meaningless, unverifiable statistics instead of speaking to the point. (Admittedly, he has now learned how, from Kerry.)

Almost always, Bush means what he says. Sometimes he means it so much it hurts. Bush can be painfully sincere; you can see how badly he wants you to understand and agree with him. The European line that he is arrogant is bunk; the European definition of “arrogant” is “any American who doesn’t kiss my behind.”

Gotta love that last line. Heh.

Go read the whole thing.

Discovering this column is just another reminder that I've always wanted to read 1939: The Lost World of the Fair. I still don't quite get Gelernter's "Lifestreams" model of computer file organization, and I think it's probably a solution in search of a problem. Though it pokes heavily at the synesthete in me.

But I digress.

For an amusing "behind the scenes" look at the President, check out this video introduced by the Bush twins. There's a guy who seems pretty relaxed in his own skin.

George Bush seems to walk through the world without much thought for himself. Though he appears comfortable in any setting, he's not what I'd call an extrovert, at least not in the Clinton sense of the word where being an extrovert is simply a means to self-promotion. "But enough about me; let's talk about you. What do you think of me?" You can see on his face that the President is a serious thinker. But there is also a certain ineffable quality about the President that I can only describe as humility, which I think is revealed by one's sense of humor.

I don't want to overstate the importance of a Presidential sense of humor. We're not electing stand-up comics. If we were, Bob Dole would have been president. Dole is wickedly funny, and it didn't really help him. The trouble was it never came out during the campaign. Only afterward did the public see Bob Dole's wit on display in his late-night talk show appearances.

But there are different kinds of "senses of humor." Bob Dole is a stand-up comic kind of guy who shoots out one-liners. President Bush is not a comic, but he gets the joke.

And unlike John Kerry, he can let himself be the joke once in awhile.


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