Watchdog Blog

Carolyn Lewis: In Defense of Our Laughing President

Posted at 11:24 am, March 25th, 2009
Carolyn Lewis Mug

Poor President Obama. All he did was laugh a couple of times during his Sixty-Minutes interview, and he was pummeled by media critics. How DARE the man even smile in the thick of the crises encircling him?

He did explain that his laughter reflected a kind of “gallows humor,” a necessary relief from the burdens of his office, but still they caviled and complained.

And then, the following Wednesday, when the President barely flashed a smile at his news conference, the New York Times tut-tutted that he was too much the serious lecturer to inspire.

On the Jay Leno show he made an offhand remark that the level of his prowess in a certain sport made him eligible only for the Special Olympics – hardly an inaccurate or even cruel remark – and there was an outcry that he was unsympathetic to folks with disabilities. He even had to apologize to placate the critics.

The danger in this is that we have a man in the White House who seems to be comfortable in his own skin, relaxed before a camera, and willing to share his up and down moods with candor. In time, the nit-pickers could turn him into a turtle, hiding himself in his shell instead of revealing who he really is. That would be a serious loss.

It’s as though a touchy, humorless spirit roams among us, squelching every smile, every semblance of humanity and joy. I happen to be particularly touchy about this humorlessness, having been on the receiving end of it. I’m one of those people who laugh a lot because I think much of what goes on in the world is absurd. That got me into trouble with some listeners of a radio talk show I had years ago. A number of listeners called in to complain that I was laughing too much. (Is it possible to laugh TOO much?)

And then there was my boss at a Washington TV station who, spying me returning from the Capitol where I covered the Congress, and looking cheerful, remarked with a sneer: “You should be paying US to do that job, you like it so much.”

When did it become unacceptable to laugh, to visibly enjoy one’s work, to poke fun at ourselves and the predicaments we face? When did the cranky sour-pusses take over the world?

For relief from all of the above, on Saturday mornings I turn on public radio’s Click and Clack – the Car Guys, where the laughter romps freely and joyfully over the airwaves. I hope President Obama is listening, too, just to remind him that somewhere somebody in the media world still believes that laughing is a yes-yes instead of a no-no.

4 Responses to “In Defense of Our Laughing President”

  1. Anne Cope says:

    Oh Carolyn, if it is the absurd you find amusing you must have laughed at yourself quite a bit while writing that piece of absurdity! If sensitivity is “cranky, sour-puss” behavior then I happily and laughingly accept that label. It’s great having a man in the White House who is comfortable “in his own skin.” It is deeply disappointing that his self-deprecation came so easily at the expense of those with intellectual disabilities. “Hardly an inaccurate or cruel” remark? Have you ever been to a Special Olympics event or met one of the athletes? Do you know the joy and sense of accomplishment that results from this amazing institution? With his flippant, thoughtless remark, President Obama negated the hard work and participation of those in the Special Olympics community; his low score was so bad it was “like the Special Olympics.” Obviously laughter has not become unacceptable Carolyn, but is unacceptable to laugh at those who are already struggling to gain and maintain the dignity that they shouldn’t have to fight for to begin with. It’s unacceptable that our society not only allows but excuses language and behavior that is hurtful to those who are often unable to defend themselves. If you haven’t viewed it, I strongly reccommend that you watch an amazing speech by a young man,Soeren Palumbo-
    Keep laughing away Carolyn, I only ask that you think about those your laughter affects and who it targets.

  2. D.McLennan says:

    Ms. Cope,
    As a very close and involved friend of a family with a downs syndrome man/boy (38 years old), and I know he would experience great delight in beating your President Obama at bowling…even though his events in Special O is swimming and speedskating.
    Lighten up.
    (signed) Canadian Senior

  3. J Stewart says:

    Ms Lewis I agree with you 100% and so do my family members. It would be hard for us to have a President who is more empathetic than Obama. He is so clearly a normal person,if more intelligent and thoughtful than most who choose politics.
    He is quick to see and laugh at the absurdities in life. Those absurdities are why so many are entertained by The Daily Show,Colbert and SNL.So many of us find humor in the same things. He is clearly serious about his resposibilities. His critics are having trouble being logical.They don’t like him or his policies and that is fine. It would be better if they just said that rather than trying to make unsupportable arguments.
    I enjoyed reading your piece.Thanks!

  4. Jim Michie says:

    BRAVO, Carolyn, BRAVO! Resentment is a poison with no bounds. It feeds upon itself and resentful people drink this poison believing that it will poison the person resented. Ludicrous! President Obama is a God-send in this era of galactic resentment–resentment, even of laughter. I much prefer hope over resentment. Thank you, Carolyn, for cutting through resentment like a “hot knife through butter.”

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