(CNN) -- Barack Obama would make a great stand-up comic, not because he's the funniest president ever but because he uses jokes the same way many of us comedians do: As a weapon.
Traditionally, the (intentionally) funny lines by our presidents have had one thing in common: They were self-deprecating. Sure, some presidents have used jokes to take jabs at their opponents, but not to the extent of Obama.
During his tenure, he has increasingly unleashed biting comedic barbs against his critics and political adversaries. These jokes are intended to do more than simply entertain you. They have an agenda.
Obama's humor is often delivered the way a comedian dealing with a heckler would do it. He tries to undermine his opponents with it and get the crowd -- in this case the public -- on his side. I can assure you that having a crowd laugh at your critic/heckler is not only effective in dominating them, it's also very satisfying.
Let's look at some of the more typical self-deprecating jokes made by presidents at past White House Correspondents' Dinners, where press and president unleash their biting wits on one another. In 1988, Ronald Reagan joked about his advanced age by commenting that his staff had claimed that "preparing me for a press conference was like reinventing the wheel. Not true. I was around when the wheel was invented, and it was easier.
President Clinton, at the 2000 Correspondents' Dinner, mentioned that he was a fan of that night's comedian, Jay Leno: "Because, together, we give hope to gray-haired, chunky baby boomers everywhere."
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You'd better vote! I really want to channel my inner Samuel L. Jackson and use some truly descriptive words to convey my feelings and "strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger," but instead, I will do my best to take "the path of the righteous man."
Why vote? What does it matter? Politicians are all the same. I don't like any of them.
We have all heard these reasons from those who don't vote. In the midterm election of 2010, only about 41% of those eligible to vote actually voted. We have one of the lowest voter turnout rates among the wealthy countries in the world. Even North Korea had a voter turnout of 54% in 2012. When we are losing in voter turnout to a country that isn't even considered a democracy, you know something is really screwed up.
I don't want to give you clichéd arguments on why you should vote. We all know them. It's your civic duty as a citizen. Others have sacrificed so that you can vote. There are people in the world literally dying for the right to vote.
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All Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan had to do was keep his radical views hidden for two more days--actually, less than 48 hours. Perhaps then less voters would be aware of how extreme and divisive he really is.
But Ryan couldn’t wait. Maybe it’s because he was “under duress” as recent polls show President Obama’s lead in Ohio growing. Plus a new Pew Poll indicates President Obama now has a three point national lead.
Maybe it was because he thought his views would remain private, like Mitt Romney believed when he made his infamous comments dismissing 47% of Americans?
But I don’t think those are the reasons. I believe Ryan had simply been waiting for an opportunity to confess his real views to a receptive audience.
For those unaware, yesterday Ryan told thousands of Evangelical Christians by teleconference that President Obama’s policies threaten our nation’s “Judeo-Christian” values. Ryan also raised the specter of “a clash of civilizations” by warning listeners that Obama’s polices compromise, “western civilization values that made us such a great an exceptional nation in the first place.”
Obviously this statement tells us a great deal about Ryan, the person Rush Limbaugh described as “the last boy scout.” Although to be honest, I was a boy scout and we never learned that our laws must be based on anyone’s religious scripture nor should we use fear to scare people to support political candidates.
Up until this point in the campaign, I was actually relieved that Romney and Obama had focused on policy issues, not religious values like we heard time and time again during the Republican presidential primary. I thought that the concept that our laws must comport with the Bible disappeared with Rick Santorum’s failed presidential bid. But Ryan just couldn’t help himself. Ryan’s statement made me think of the “Godfather III” when Michael Corleone remarked: “Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in.”
Ryan’s comment that President Obama’s policies are threatening Judeo-Christian values is clearly intended to send two messages to the Evangelical voters. One, if elected, Paul Ryan will work to ensure that our laws and regulations are in compliance with the Bible. This really shouldn't be a surprise because Ryan has made it clear he opposes abortion even in the case when a woman is raped—thus, sentencing a rape victim to carry the child of the rapist in her womb for nine months.
Ryan is a man who actually stated that “Roe versus Wade” was similar to the infamous “Dred Scott” Supreme Court decision which upheld slavery. Who could actually compare the concept of owning a human being with a women’s right to have control over her own body?!
There’s also clearly a second reason Ryan told these conservative Christians that Obama does not share their religious values. Anyone guess? This one is easy: Because President Obama is not a Christian like them but actually…a Muslim. (Cue scary music.)
This is not only false since Obama is a Christian, but appalling because Ryan is a Catholic and is undoubtedly aware of similar smear tactics used by people to scare voters about John F. Kennedy’s presidential candidacy. Kennedy’s political opponents argued that too was a threat to American values.
This issue dogged Kennedy until his famous speech in 1960 to a group of Evangelical leaders where he stated: “Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.”
However, when Paul Ryan was given a chance to address Evangelicals, he didn’t follow the lead of John Kennedy, trying to end divisiveness based on religion. Instead, Ryan fed the very same bigotry John Kennedy was seeking to combat.
It’s my hope that Mitt Romney denounces these statements by Paul Ryan. Of course we know that won’t happen. Often in presidential campaigns Vice Presidential candidates act as a “pit bull” and say combative or extreme things which the presidential candidate actually agrees with but doesn’t want to say publicly. Lets hope that isn’t the case here, but sadly I fear it is.
“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
This adage may be the reason that President Obama and Mitt Romney will avoid using humor during their upcoming presidential debates. But that’s a mistake.
Past presidential candidates have used comedy in the debates, and guess what, they won the election. Obviously that’s not the only reason they won, but you can’t deny it helped them.
Here’s something you don’t need a high-priced, inside the Washington beltway political consultant to tell you: When you make people laugh, they tend to like you more. It creates a bond with people because your words have caused them to have a visceral reaction: Laughter.
I’m not saying Romney or Obama should come out with series of zingers or one-liners. However, a well-written and well-delivered joke is potentially more valuable in increasing your likability than a $100 million dollar donation from Sheldon Adelson to your Super PAC. (Mitt Romney: I hope you’re reading this!)
But keep in mind, all laughs are not equal in the world of presidential debates. A presidential candidate telling a funny joke at an appropriate time in the debate will help him show his human, playful side.
Contrast this with comedy caused when a candidate does something awkward or makes a gaffe at the debate. Those don’t help. Think Al Gore sighing loudly in his first debate with George W. Bush in 2000– funny for us, deadly for him. And then there was George W. H. Bush obviously looking at his watch twice during one of the 1992 debates as if he had somewhere more important to be.
The use of comedy during the debate also has another potential upside. Not only can comedy ingratiate you with voters, when wielded correctly, it can be a formidable weapon. A good joke can show the absurdity of your opponent’s argument. If America is laughing with you and at your opponent, that’s a good thing for your campaign.
The most famous example of a presidential candidate deftly using a debate joke was Ronald Reagan in 1984. Reagan, who was 73 years old at the time, was the oldest president to ever seek a second term. Some viewed his age as a liability.
But Reagan, when asked by a journalist during the debate if his age would be a problem, delivered this classic line: “I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
The crowd erupted in laughter. Even his opponent Walter Mondale laughed. That effectively closed the door on that issue.
Another effective use of comedy during a debate was in 2000 by George W. Bush. (Ironic isn’t it, because Bush would later become a walking punch line.) Bush had already run ads attacking his opponent Al Gore for his alleged claim that he had invented the Internet. (Gore’s exact quote had been: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.")
During one presidential debate, Gore gave one of his patented, detailed laden answers to a question which included numerous mathematical figures. Bush, instead of taking on the substance of the argument, responded using humor: ”I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator as well. It's fuzzy math."
That was a great line for two reason: One, it was funny. Two, it furthered the narrative Bush was creating of Gore that he was arrogant. The result was America was laughing at Al Gore plus they were reminded about his alleged claim that he invented the Internet.
Although as a warning to both Obama and Romney, a poorly delivered joke can hurt you. It will make you look more awkward, less relatable, and will be fodder for every late night TV comedy show out there. You better make sure you have a good comedy writer working with you and practice delivering the joke before the debate. (Just throwing this out there, but I will make myself available to either Obama or Romney if you need a comedy coach for an almost reasonable sum of money.)
So President Obama and Mitt Romney, as you prepare for the upcoming debates by cramming facts and figures into your tired brains, save some time to learn one or two jokes. I can assure you that a detailed, nuanced answer to a policy question will not be as memorable, nor move people as much, as one really good joke.
(New York, NY) This is a HUGE week! For those who follow politics, you know why.
For the rest of you, let me put it in perspective: This news is bigger than Snooki getting pregnant or Justin Bieber beating up a member of the paparazzi. It's even bigger than the finale of “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Biggest Loser”-- combined!
This week, the United States Supreme Court is expected to decide the fate of the Affordable Health Care Act- also known “affectionately” as Obamacare.
Will the law be upheld or will it be struck down in whole or in part? It’s like trying to guess the identity of the person Kim Kardashian will marry next (and then quickly divorce)--everyone has an opinion and there are no wrong answers. (My view is that the Supreme Court will uphold the law, deferring to Congress, thus allowing the issue to be resolved in the political arena.)
To me, the most intriguing part of this impending decision is its political implications. The prevailing wisdom – if “wisdom” is even a word that can be applied to anything involving our politics today –is that if the Supreme Court strikes down the law, it will be a big blow to President Obama and will negatively impact his reelection campaign. I completely disagree.
Even though this law is President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, it’s very unpopular. Recent polls indicate that only one third of Americans support it and, worse yet for Obama, only 21% of Independents.
Mitt Romney views the law as such a liability for Obama that he made it a central part of his very first campaign commercial after effectively securing the Republican nomination. In this ad, Romney sets out what he would do “Day One” of his presidency, which includes his boast that he would dismantle Obamacare. In contrast, if I were elected President, on my first day in office, I’d be more focused on picking out the best closets in the White House and locating the good Chinese restaurants in the area.
But if the Supreme Court strikes it down, it pulls the rug out from under Romney on this line of attack. Can Romney truly hope to attract voters by saying: “Remember that health care law we didn't like, well if it was still in effect, I would get rid of it.” It would be like “Captain America” coming to save us from a monster that has already been killed by “The Hulk.”
While that doesn't help Romney's campaign, he arguably an has even bigger problem if the Supreme Court finds this law unconstitutional. Romney has claimed that if Obama is reelected, he will be: “unrestrained by the demands of re-election,” meaning Obama can run amuck and do whatever he wants in his second term. Who knows what Obama might try: Ban guns? Impose communism? Force straight people to marry gay people?
However, the Supreme Court striking down Obamacare undercuts this fear tactic by Romney because it proves that the checks and balances enshrined in our Constitution work. If one branch goes too far, another branch will rein them. This is the express purpose of having three branches of government--it creates a checks and balance system to avoid tyranny as James Madison famously stated in The Federalist Papers.
If the healthcare law and the "Fear factor" Romney is peddling regarding Obama are gone, guess what he's stuck with running on: The economy. While that may sound appealing, it isn't--not only because when Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, his State was 47th in job creation--but because as a new poll released this week found, almost 60% of Americans believe that the President has little impact on job creation. We are now collectively grasping that issues beyond the President's control--such as the European economic crisis and oil prices--greatly impact our economic well being.
Bottom line: Mitt Romney has to be rooting for the Supreme Court to uphold the health care law and especially the unpopular individual mandate portion. (Which ironically is the same mandate Romney championed in Massachusetts when he was Governor.)
In any event, a recent poll found that 77% of Americans want Congress to start work on a new health care bill if this law is struck down. Meaning that this issue is not going away even if the court strikes it down. Perhaps striking it down gives Obama another shot a health care law that will be effective and popular with the American people. (And if the Court upholds the law, President Obama needs to start better explaining the positive aspects of the law so that we are all better informed on the full scope of this law--as of now, the negative voices are driving the narrative despite polls showing a solid majority of Americans support many key parts of the law.)
So America, set your DVR's and invite your friends over to watch the US Supreme Court announce the decision of the decade live on TV! Oh yeah, you can’t watch it live on TV because the US Supreme Court won’t let cameras in. Parenthetically I think this is a mistake – I could envision a new popular reality TV series: “The Real Judges of the Supreme Court.”
If the health care law is struck down this week, President Obama will undoubtedly be disappointed. But watch Mitt Romney ‘s response closely to see if you can detect if he, too, is unhappy. He should be.
(CNN) -- A reporter from a right-wing media outlet heckled President Obama -- not once, but twice -- on Friday as he was unveiling a new immigration policy. If this shocks you, you haven't been paying attention. This is simply the latest page from the right's playbook to delegitimize Barack Obama's presidency.
Some may dismiss it as an isolated incident, but it's not. It goes much deeper. Believe me, I know hecklers -- I'm a stand-up comedian. If someone heckles me once, it can be a mistake: too many drinks, overcome by emotion, etc. But when you heckle twice, you have an agenda.
Neil Munro, the Irish born reporter who heckled President Obama, was not just from some random publication. He works for The Daily Caller, a right-wing website whose editor-in-chief is the bow-tie wearing Tucker Carlson. (You may recall Carlson as the guy who famously sparred with — and was taken down by -- Jon Stewart on CNN years ago.)
Munro's first heckle occurred while President Obama was in midsentence, with Munro yelling out: "Why do you favor foreigners over Americans?" Obama responded: "Excuse me, sir, but it's not time for questions." Munro countered: "Are you going to take questions?"
To which the president answered: "Not while I'm speaking."
Later, Munro again interrupted the president in midstatement. Obama kept his cool; he simply finished his statement. If I had been president, I would have deported Munro back to his country of origin.
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Why do you support discrimination against a group of Americans? This is just one of the questions that I ask myself when I encounter people opposed to gay marriage. Other questions that pop into my head include: What makes Americans who are gay less American than you? Why are they not entitled to the same protections under our system of laws that you are?
The issue of marriage equality to me is not a nuanced legal issue. It’s not a moral issue. It’s simply a question of: Do you think all Americans should be treated equally?
I have long supported marriage equality simply because I oppose discrimination against any American, whether it’s based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or for other reason people on the right can think of to try and divide us. There is nothing more un-American and inconsistent with the values and ideals of this nation than discrimination.
Why should a couple in love be precluded from being married - and enjoying all the legal and emotional benefits that it provides-solely because of their sexual orientation? Opponents to marriage equality should be required to meet with gay couples and tell them to their face that they are not entitled to the same rights as other American couples. I want to hear them explain to the gay couple if one of them is sick in the hospital, why the other can't visit the person like any other spouse? Why should a gay couple not have the same rights when it comes to inheritance and tax laws?
I truly believe in the words famously set forth in our Declaration of Independence which provide: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” If we are all created equal, should we not all be treated equally? In fact, equal protection under the law is guaranteed to all Americans – even gay ones- by the 14th amendment to the Constitution.
Opposing gay marriage is no different than opposing the civil rights movement. Indeed, much of the language used by opponents to gay marriage sounds eerily similar to the language used by those who opposed interracial marriage. Opponents to interracial marriage typically cited religious reasons claiming God didn't want people of different races to mix because it was against the laws of nature. Sound familiar?
Up until the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision in “Loving vs. Virginia,” there were 16 States which still made it a crime for Blacks and Whites to marry. (The 16 States which banned interracial marriage at that time are also among the States which ban gay marriage- coincidence?)
The interracial couple in the Loving case had actually been sentenced to one year in jail for their “crime” of simply wanting to be married to each other. But the Supreme Court struck down those laws, linking the right to marry with civil rights and the basic liberties promised to all Americans by our Constitution: “Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man…The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”
Many who oppose gay marriage - such as former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum - have cited religious scripture as the reason. But religious text can not be the basis for our civil laws. There must be a legitimate policy reason to enact a law which discriminates against Americans and, to date, none has been articulated. As Thomas Jefferson stated and numerous courts have quoted: "...the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state."
To those who support marriage equality, its time is near. President Obama’s statement on Wednesday that he now personally favors gay marriage is reminiscent of when President Lyndon Johnson stood up for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 during the civil rights struggle.
Recent public opinion polls indicate that approximately 50% of Americans support gay marriage and only 45% oppose it. These numbers are actually amazing when you contrast them with public opinion polls in the late 1960’s which found that only about 20% of Americans approved of interracial marriages. It wasn't until over 20 years later before a majority of Americans accepted interracial marriage -- now over 86% of Americans support it. Thus, indicating that the attitudes of Americans do evolve for the better given sufficient time and exposure.
But the increasing acceptance of gay marriage and President Obama’s statement alone will not end the struggle for marriage equality. It will take the US Supreme Court – just as in Loving vs. Virginia- to end this State sanctioned discrimination. This is the likely result since the Supreme Courts of Iowa and Connecticut as well as the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have already found laws barring gay marriage as unconstitutional discrimination.
And to those who favor discrimination against their fellow Americans, there is no doubt they will be looked at like those who opposed the civil rights movement. They will simply find themselves on the wrong side of history.