One time presidential candidate – and a long time friend of Indian country – the late Mo Udall once described himself in his own memoirs as “too funny to be president.”
Such is the day when he was campaigning in New Hampshire. He walked into a barbershop and introduced himself. “Good morning, my name is Mo Udall and I’m running for president.” The barber replied. “I know. We were just laughing about that this morning.”
One of Udall’s favorite stories – one I have heard him tell – is about a politician campaigning on an Indian reservation. The candidate ticks off a list of promises: better schools, hospitals, and secure funding for tribal government. After each promise the politician hears what sounds like a cheer. “Goomah!” says the crowd. He is pleased with himself. And the proof of that day’s success comes after the speech when a tribal leader presents the politician with a special gift, a fine horse. What a day of campaigning. He is smiles when he enters the corral to see his horse. But then he’s warned, “be careful, don’t step in the goomah.”
SNL had fun with the debates so far, making the case that Obama did not do well because he was too busy thinking of an anniversary gift for Michelle. Same with the vice presidential debate where SNL captured Joseph Biden’s over-reactions, laughs, and interruptions. Ryan gets similar treatment over the math of his tax plan and his exaggerations about his marathon racing days.
Romney’s fiscal attack on PBS is prime fodder for The Daily Show. A clip of Obama says: “Thank goodness someone is finally getting tough on Big Bird.” To which host John Stewart replies, “Excellent, next day comeback.”
But what of the candidates themselves. Can they be funny?
Obama turned his debate performance into a joke. He was at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles were many “incredible professionals … just perform flawlessly night after night, the president said. “Uh, I can’t always say the same.”
Mitt Romney used a self-deprecating shtick as well shortly after the two conventions. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this election season, by the way, it’s that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good,” Romney said. “All I’ve got to do now is wait a couple of days for that bounce.”
He did get that bounce. But which candidate is funnier?
Obama often jokes about his funny name, big ears, and the gray hairs that transformed his youthful appearance in just four years.
One recent Romney joke fell flat. On the secretly recorded Mother Jones video where he talked about the 47 percent that would never vote for him, Romney told about his father’s history in Mexico where the family had been living because of U.S. polygamy laws. Had my father “been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico,” Romney said, “he lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino.”
But too funny to be president?
Back to the words of Mo Udall, who really was too funny. Once just before launching his presidential bid Udall went golfing. He was asked if he had a handicap to report. Udall said: “I’m a one-eyed Mormon Democrat from conservative Arizona. You can’t find a higher handicap than that.”
Then he also said it’s better to have a sense of humor than no sense at all.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.