Laughing all the way to the end

In the standard metaphor of the presidential election race, it is the candidates who are said to be running. My friends, to borrow John McCain’s phrase because soon he will not be needing it, we are all runners.

Over and over, we have slogged up one side of a debate and down the other, we have pushed hard against unfavorable political headwinds, we have stopped for liquid refreshment (energy drinks, i.e., beer), we have laughed, we have cried and we have seen our brains turned into mush by ridiculous TV commercials and robo-calls.

But mostly we have laughed in our exhaustion — that is, those of us who packed a sense of humor in our fanny packs.

Has there ever been a more humorous race? As one who has been running in the pack behind Barack Obama, I and my fellow humorists have been treated to the ultimate running joke. As we approach the finish line, our leaden feet are light again remembering the hilarious moments in an otherwise wretched McMarathon.

Who can forget the smiling, skull-faced Rudy Giuliani at the Republican National Convention, making sport of community organizers the day after the convention had dedicated itself to "Service?" We peasants were meant to understand that Barack Obama was an oddball for choosing to help the poor when he could have been making millions.

As it happens, the desperate effort to make Obama into an elitist has been hilarious for connoisseurs of the genre who know that there’s nothing more elitist than treating the voters like rubes. Here’s a guy who spent much of his childhood being brought up by his grandparents and a single mother, yet he is painted as if he wears a top hat and tails.

The wacky fun continues now that Joe the Plumber has become the new philosopher of the age. Joe the Plumber turned out to be Joe the Great Pretender, not even licensed to wear his pants low enough to expose his buttocks in the time-honored way.

But did that deter John McCain? Heck, no, because reality has never been allowed to intrude into his campaign, especially the reality of George W. Bush’s long shadow. Apparently reality is not maverick enough.

Joe the Plumber’s contribution was to elicit from Barack the Candidate the mild observation that it’s good for everybody when wealth is spread around — which, as The New Yorker pointed out, was not far away from what Adam Smith said in "The Wealth of Nations," the alternative bible for conservatives. Still, the cry went up throughout the land: "Socialist! Socialist! Marxist! Marxist!" Once more the GOP has made a straw man out of a very thin reed. Never mind that this country is now owned by Communist China, that George Bush went to the Beijing Olympics so as not to offend the princes of Marxism, and that we have just handed over $700 billion to bail out Wall Street, the joke is that the moderate Barack Obama is the socialist.

Calling Barack a socialist is like calling George Bush a fascist — tempting perhaps, sort of fun to do, but this side of collective farming or new Nuremberg rallies, a certain proof of crackpot tendencies. The greater joke is that many people haven’t got the faintest idea what socialism is. The classic definition includes the government taking over the means of production, but Obama hasn’t suggested any such thing except in the fevered imaginations of the GOP (the Grumpy Old Party).

An Obama campaign volunteer, who has been knocking on doors in the Pittsburgh area, related to me what one voter gave as her reason for not voting for the Democrat: She doesn’t want "anyone who is social in the job." I sympathize up to a point — an endless round of cocktail parties is not good and there’s no speaking with Putin with a mouth full of hors d’oeuvres.

But way beyond this low comedy, nothing has been funnier than Sarah Palin, John McCain’s perky but content-free running mate. It’s just been one drollery after another with St. Sarah.

How many of us hurt our ribs laughing when her absence of foreign policy experience was justified by reference to the fact that one can see Russia from a part of Alaska? Please stop, we said, you’re killing us! And how about learning that she was made witch-proof by some risible reverend? (Not a bad idea, actually, considering that the current vice president was long ago turned into a poisonous toad.)

It may be that McCain and the patron saint of moose may yet have the last laugh at the end of the race. Why not? Voters could react well to having their collective intelligence insulted. Alas, the joke then will be on everyone.


(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)