That’s not Funny; That’s a Politician

            It was widely reported several days ago that Senator John McCain made a joke about how increased cigarettes exports from the United States to Iran might kill off some Iranians.  The obvious inference is that we would then not have to worry as much about the nuclear threat that Iran presents.

            You know, not too many people would go for laughs with a topic like terminal lung cancer (maybe that’s just one more reason to call McCain a “maverick”).  It’s particularly tough when you’re a politician—roughly half the people listening to you won’t want you to be clever. 

The humor angle might even be worse for Republicans.  See, a common attack Republicans direct at Democrats is that they are elitists.  Barack Obama?  Elitist.  John Kerry?  Elitist.  Al Gore?  He wants you to ride a bicycle to work to conserve energy while he lives in a huge, energy-guzzling house.  Verdict?  Yep, you guessed it—elitist.  But it is easy to concede that some smarty-pants elitist is clever, so it’s okay to laugh at his jokes if he’s funny.  The Democratic party line against Republicans, however, is that they are stupid.  George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Dwight Eisenhower—all stupid.  Richard Nixon was smart—that was okay to say because he was amoral.  The point is (if you buy into this paradigm) that dumb people aren’t supposed to have a clever sense of humor.

So the deck is already stacked against John McCain, and here he is making a wise crack.  According to Reuters, McCain was commenting on a report that said American exports to Iran had increased since George W. Bush had taken office and part of the reason was because of greater cigarette sales.  McCain said, “Maybe that’s a way of killing ’em.  I meant that as a joke, as a person who hasn’t had a cigarette in 28 years, 29 years.”

Is it worth mentioning that McCain immediately made it clear that he wasn’t serious?  We hear about all kinds of off the wall things that people in the spotlight say.  When a controversy is ignited, they usually come out and apologize and “clarify.”  McCain made it clear from the get go that he didn’t mean anything by it.

Does it seem like he displayed too little seriousness about our very serious relations with Iran?

Are some Americans making a bigger deal over a joke than they are over Iranians who’ve allegedly engaged in acts in Iraq that kill American soldiers? 

Didn’t Jesus say something about people who swallow a camel and strain on a gnat?

If I were an Iranian, would I consider John McCain unfunny?  Yes.  I guess it’s a good thing that he’s not running for President of their country. 

Was the joke better left unsaid?  Yes, but perhaps Senator McCain’s years as a prisoner of war gave him a gruffer sense of humor than some people have, especially when commenting on a country that might be seeking to do harm in the world.