Thursday, August 7, 2008

Jumping the Snark

Greg Sargent on the serious business of mockery in the campaign.

Beneath the campaigns’ efforts to mock one another, of course, lies something far more serious: The life-or-death struggle to define the opponent. The GOP’s mockery of Obama is about portraying him as a vacuous pop-culture phenom who’s out of touch with ordinary folk. Obama’s mockery of McCain is about portraying him as befuddled and adrift, un-moored from whatever principles once grounded him.

Who knows what Obama’s current advantage in the mockery realm will translate into November, but given the high-stakes definition game underlying the mutual ridicule, Obama’s ability to rise above and appear impervious to GOP mockery projects confidence and enables him to avoid the lethal trap of defensiveness. It’s an advantage he’d do well to maintain.

I’ve always been a big believer in the usefulness of laughter and mockery as both a weapon and a tool for effectively deflecting the attacks of your opponent, and pissing them off is a bonus.

The advantage that Barack Obama has in this case is that he comes across as someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously; his humor isn’t forced, and for all the talk about his “arrogance,” he is disarmingly self-deprecating. John McCain, on the other hand (and in spite of his recurring engagements on SNL), handles humor clumsily, and that forced laugh and creepy death’s head grin makes John Kerry’s attempts at stand-up in 2004 look like Robin Williams by comparison.

I suppose it’s too much to ask that the campaign coverage focus on real issues like health care, education, and, you know, the things that will really matter once the election is over…and that really matter now. But since that’s out, if we’re going to spend the next 90 days or so playing trivial pursuit and tit for tat, it’s a relief that the Democrats finally have a candidate who seems to be capable of hitting back.