Milking the horse: The funny vote

Milking the horse: The funny vote

: Laura Bush’s stand-up routine was a notable political moment:

It was about trying to recapture the funny vote: the vast voting public with a sense of humor. It was about trying to be real people (not self-righteous prigs).

Last week, Glenn Reynolds said that the Republicans try to fight down the image of being the party of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson while the Democrats try to fight down the image of being the party of Jane Fonda.

In other words, they try to distance themselves from self-righteous prigs. I do believe that Americans are are sick and tired of the prig fringe.

This was a message to both sides: It was a message to Kerry voters that “we have more fun.” And, with horse dick jokes, I do think it was a message to the religious right: “We need to lighten up.”

In his Times column today, John Tierney says the Bushes — and, they hope, their backers — are coming out as real people:

Mrs. Bush’s performance, and her husband’s reaction, wasn’t a shock to the reporters who cover the White House. For years they have tried to convince their friends outside Washington that Mr. Bush is actually not a close-minded dolt, and Mrs. Bush is no Stepford Wife or Church Lady. Yes, they’re Texans who go to church and preach family values, but they’re not yahoos or religious zealots…

The favorite Democratic explanation is that the red staters are hicks who have been blinded by righteousness, as Thomas Frank argues in “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” He laments that middle-class Kansans are so bamboozled by moral issues like abortion and school prayer that they vote for Republicans even though the Republican tax-cutting policies are against their self-interest….

One of the main reasons they like him is that he gets bashed so often. When Jon Stewart sneers at him, they empathize because they’re used to being sneered at themselves.

They know what their image is in Manhattan and Hollywood, and they know they’re not all that different from the Democrats in those places. They, too, watch “Desperate Housewives,” and they’re not surprised to hear Laura Bush doing Chippendales jokes. They’ve spent their own dollar bills there. They don’t see anything the matter with that – or with themselves.

It’s a clever political move, for it’s a lot easier to get people to like you — and vote for you — when you’re laughing along than when you’re trying to duck spit.

  • I didn’t vote for President Bush, but it was never because I think he’s stupid or a zealot. I wanted to vote for what he’s supposed to stand for as a Republican, which is liberty and defense and government getting out of the way of private lives. (I’m omitting a few, but that’s the basic idea.) Social Security is out-of-whack? Check. The tax system is out-of-whack? Very Big Check. National security is our most immediate issue? Check, again.
    What irritates me about President Bush is that he shows that he’s not a prude or a zealot, yet he then supports these policies demonstrate otherwise. He states that he has no problem with civil unions, yet he supports the FMA. He states that he believes parents are the best defense against children being exposed to indecency, yet he does nothing when Congress acts as though parents are helpless. I don’t want a politician, especially from a 2nd-term president. The president should lead. He’s proven he can lead in national security, so why can’t (won’t) he lead in other areas?
    That’s what kept me from voting for him. If the Republicans want me to consider voting for them, I need more of Mrs. Bush’s comedy (and President Bush’s response) and less of the wingnut overreaction that masquerades as a legislative agenda. I’m sure that’s wishful thinking in the short-term, but I want leadership over ideology.
    That goes for the Democrats, too.

  • Harry

    It’s not an accident that the most successful Democrat politician in decades—-Bill Clinton—–was also the one who took himself the least seriously.
    Self-righteousness—-from the right or left, from Jerry Falwell or Michael Moore—-turns off everyone but the zealots.

  • sabrina

    “What irritates me about President Bush is that he shows that he’s not a prude or a zealot, yet he then supports these policies demonstrate otherwise.”
    Exactly. I did vote for Bush because I felt deep down that, while he may be a religious man, he was not a zealot or a fundamentalist. I knew there would be some amount of pandering to the far right – it is expected and unavoidable. I just didn’t expect his second term to start looking like a 4-year homage to the religious right.
    If Bush wants to show that he is not a card-carrying member of the religious right fringe ñ then he needs to do so executively and legislatively, not comedically.

  • sinnaj

    I really don’t get it. Yes, Laura Bush was funny (even if she only repeated the words and jokes of a professional comedian), and George Bush is an easy going man you (well, maybe not YOU) could talk with, and even might have strong moral beliefs (who am I to challenge that?) but what does this has to do with anything? Are these characteristics what one should look for in a President? What about his policies and plans? What about checking if what he believes in is right? As for the being “real”, I don’t think it deserves much attention, as we are all real. Being a self-righteous prig is as much real especially when it is nothing else than another political move which was also great once. Is it a good politician one who changes according to what he thinks the electorate wants to hear and to what will make him more likable to them? I may of course be a bit unfair here and the whole thing is no acting (Laura seems nice, George W loooks like a guy I could drink a beer with), but as I said before, who cares? Why is a “humorous” leader better than a self-righteous one if they both fail to act in the best interests of their people?
    Oh and by the way, doesn’t Mr. Tierney seem a bit opportunistic in his effort to keep Red and Blue States as apart away as possible?

  • pdf

    >it’s a lot easier to get people to like you — and vote for you — when you’re laughing along than when you’re trying to duck spit
    Funny how this side of the Bushes only showed up after he no longer had to worry about getting votes. Make no mistake. He might be a nice guy, but he panders to the psycho demo when he’s actually running for office. Now that he’s leaning back in the comfy second-term chair, sure, there’ll be dick jokes. He’s got nothing to lose. The wingnuts already cast their ballots.

  • bob

    “the wingnuts already cast their ballots”.
    written like a true left wing A hole. nice. enjoy your double double mocha latte.

  • Angelos

    “enjoy your double double mocha latte”
    Spoken like a right-wing asshole. Enjoy your (insert stereotype here).
    Seriously Bob, think before you hit “Post”.
    BTW, a series of jokes written by a professional comedy writer doesn’t make anyone funny, or human, or likeable. If it did, David Schwimmer would actually be funny. No, Ross was funny, Schwimmer can’t act his way into a 4th grade Christmas play.
    The “Lyne Cheney and I were watching ‘Desperate Housewives'” schtick was as genuine as a hack comedian starting a joke with “I was coming from the airport this afternoon…”.
    But hey, she got people talking about something other than the fact that Georgie boy was planning and deploying for war 9 months before he asked congress for a vote.
    The wingers who say this shows the Bush’s humanity and humor are the same idiots who would be calling a Democrat First Lady (Hillary or Tipper or Theresa) classeless and vulgar.

  • bob

    Angelos maybe you ought to understand the difference between responding to a person and referring to the majority of the people in a country.
    You see or do i need to pull out the hand puppets?
    Furthermore you seem not to have gotten the entire gist of the post put up by Jeff. Might i suggest Reading Comprehension 101 for you as well?
    Oh and regarding Hillary the only funny about her is how she bamboozled NY into voting for her. Such a laugh riot i decided to leave the state.

  • Gunther

    A clever political move? Only if you’re one of the rubes this routine was aimed at. Bush has devoted a lot of energy to making himself look like a “regular guy”, and not the privileged son of a well connected father. That’s why he bought that Potemkin ranch in Crawford. And most political commenters (both MSM and blogging versions) are so used to playing along that they don’t call them on what is quite obviously bullshit. They marvel at Laraua Bush as if she came up with the jokes herself, even though they know that she didn’t. And they also nod approvingly at her reference to “Desperate Hosuewives”, as if it portended some great success at connecting to average people, when they know that she doesn’t even watch the show.
    We’re supposed to believe that Bush is a guy who can take a joke at his expense? What do you think would have happened if the main act had treated him and his wife in a manner similar to what Don Imus did to Clinton a few years back? If they had anyone with a bit more of an edge than Cedric the Entertainer (who, really, needs to change at least one of his names)?

  • weboy

    I’m sorry… so which is it? There’s a problem with the culture… or there isn’t? Mrs. Bush’s rather pedestrian attempt at humor, hitting the same, tired hot buttons as a snoozy Leno opener, made her part of the cultural zeitgeist that’s supposed to be so problematic (and, rare as it might be, I’m one of those liberals who isn’t altogether thrilled with the way the culture’s going). Lighten up? Sure, but don’t tell me then that we’re supposed to take those issues seriously. That was Bill Clinton’s problem ultimately, that his “don’t take me so seriously” efforts resulted in… not being taken seriously. Add to that the crass, tacky nature of the jokes (milking a male horse… how…. tasteful) and one is reminded yet again, that this “classy” Bush era is pretty much common is as common does.

  • Angelos

    Dana Stevens has a pretty good assessment:
    In an interview with The New Yorker last year, Parvin (the joke-writer) told Elizabeth Kolbert, “A politician will be in trouble and he’ll say, ‘Will you do me some lines on it?’, because he’s heard that humor can get him out of trouble. I tell them, depending on the situation, ‘No, this is trouble. You should not make fun of this.’ ” Apparently Parvin’s instincts were off at last year’s Radio and Television Correspondents dinner, where a slide show he co-wrote of Bush poking around the White House, looking for WMD’s under the furniture, drew a strong backlash the next day. A lot of people, including some war veterans, didn’t double over in mirth at the idea that over 500 American troops (the number has since more than tripled) had lost their lives in a war over … what again?
    But this year, Parvin understood a truth that Bush’s handlers had already grasped during last year’s campaign: Approval ratings down? Insurgency spiraling out of control? Better wheel out the librarian. Something about Laura Bush’s honeyed voice and PTA-mom manner makes appalling truthsóIraq is a quagmire; our leadership has no idea what to do about it; the Cabinet is a macho, insular boys’ clubóseem more worthy of eye-rolling than hand-wringing.

    Laura’s image of Bush, fresh from Andover and Yale, beginning his ranching career by trying to milk a male horse, made for a gratifyingly naughty giggle at an event whose sexiest moment up to then was when Alan Greenspan walked by chatting up Goldie Hawn. But however charming her drawl, it was hard not to squirm at Laura’s blithe assertion that “George’s answer to any problem at the ranch is to cut it down with a chainsaw. Which I think is why he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well.” That comparison of the president’s ranching style to The Texas Chainsaw Massacreóone of her speech’s better linesówas kind of cute, until you carried the analogy to its logical conclusion: The way Bush runs a ranch is similar to the way he conducts the business of state. The way Bush runs a ranch is clueless, absolutist, and wantonly destructive. Ergo …

  • JT

    Laura Bush has always struck me as a more “liberal centrist” personality than her husband’s politics allow her to be in public. However, one night of jokes does not make up for nearly six years of a poor job as president. If a Democrat had done something similar there would have been an outcry from the right-wing zealots about the downfall of Christian America. My God, can you imagine if Hillary had done this! Rush Limbaugh would have had a field day! America has real problems that need to be dealt with and trying humanize a man who’s, for the most part, ignored those problems in favor of right-wing agenda doesn’t get a pass for poking a little fun at himself

  • Tony (first comment): I could not agree more with what you said. Leadership and tackling real issues would be great!
    – Charging RINO

  • John

    Laura may be a read cad on the comedy circuit, but labeling her a “liberal centrist” is a little off. I will always remember her as the Librarian first lady who banned the poets…
    “Laura Bush canceled a White House poetry symposium scheduled for Feb. 12 (2003) after learning that some poets were planning to bring poems against the war and turn the party into a protest”
    I also believe that she was upset when she found out some Langston Hughes poems were going to be read, I guess she didn’t realize that he didn’t follow the GOP party line. So much for bringing in all voices into the White House, not just the ones you want to hear.

  • Evan

    I find it hilarious that guys like Jeff and Andrew Sullivan are ‘all fundamentalists’ all-the-time now.
    It appears to me that the majority of zealots out there today, are the ones looking for zealots anytime someone says something about values or morals.
    This country has always had a debate about sexuality and indecency. Yet the true zealots of today say there should be no debate anymore. If anyone dare mention concern or opposition to any sexual practice or depiction of sex in media, they are fundamentalist zealots.
    For sure there are some zealots on the religious right and left, just like there always has been.
    But the new breed of zealot is the ones like Jeff puffing up with pride about his ‘tolerant’ brand of Christianity that zealously roots out the zealots.

  • worrywart

    Evan, this whole 3rd-grade rant, “I know you are, but what am I” that nutjobs come back with when anyone calls them a zealot is getting kind of tired. It’s hasn’t proven effective as an insult or in gaining any mindshare for the nutjobs.
    It just proves you’re a nutjob because you keep repeating the same thing over and over and expect to get a different result.

  • Nutjobs are anyone who gives a flip about what jokes the First Lady repeated to a bunch of media dorks snarfing free food & cocktails, and then trying to extrapolate that to national political dynamics.

  • pdf

    Aside from the political cynicism I discussed in my earlier comment, what about the even more disgusting cynicism of there even being a White House Correspondents’ Dinner? Why doesn’t the almighty blogosphere come down on these millionaire pundits and “reporters” (recording secretaries is more like it) cozying up to the administration? As we all know, the #1 reason the media never tells the real truth about what’s going on in American politics isn’t because of bias on one side or the other – it’s because they’re nothing more than sycophantic courtiers, dancing and singing for the powerful people they openly worship. This kind of circle jerk is the public face of the private dynamic of ultra-rich journalists hanging out at all the same parties, vacation spots, etc. as the people they’re supposed to be exposing in print or on TV. Disgusting. And it happens, to one degree or another, whoever’s in office.

  • mamapajamas

    Angelos: “But hey, she got people talking about something other than the fact that Georgie boy was planning and deploying for war 9 months before he asked congress for a vote.”
    How did he manage THAT? Congress voted to depose Saddam in 1998, and Clinton signed it into law. That was before Bush took office. This is the reason Bush kept saying that a vote wasn’t needed… it was already done in 1998. So he zapped them… waited until a couple of weeks before the Congressional elections and THEN said, “OK, vote on it, if you insist!” forcing them to put their stance on the war on the record just before the election! LOL! What a strategery!

  • tesh

    holy cow Jeff, you sure have an unhappy bunch tonight.all of that sophistication must be tiresome.
    ataboy Evan, your not the only one to notice that Jeff is are only tolerant if you agree with him.

  • Why doesn’t the almighty blogosphere come down on these millionaire pundits and “reporters” (recording secretaries is more like it) cozying up to the administration?
    Because we don’t care? That’s why there’s a blogosphere? I hope they’ll all just wither and die? Or go to work for Denton?
    I do understand the intrinsic idiocy of responding on a media blog to a media question. I hate myself now, if that helps.

  • Jon

    So what do Pat Robertson and his friends in the American Taliban want in a Bush second term? For an overview, see:
    “Pat Robertson’s Second Term Agenda”

  • Kat

    I have always believed that we do have the Taliban in the US–called the ACLU, run by a bunch of leftwing nutjobs. Like the Taliban, the bigots at the ACLU use their own perverted interpretation of the law, guided by their intolerance, to destroy Christian symbols just like their brothers destroy buddhas,churches and believers, worldwide.

  • Angelos

    Oh Kat, they riled you up again…
    You suffer with your Christian delusions, and want us all to suffer too? Is that it? They filled your head with fairy tales, and you can’t understand why we don’t all believe them?
    You really don’t believe in freedom, do you? You’re like al-Zarqawi, who said Democracy must be opposed, “because it is based ‘on the right to choose your religion,’ and that is ‘against the rule of God.'” Love those Flat-man pull-quotes.
    Again, the ACLU doesn’t care what you do in the privacy of your own home or church. They exist to fight for the right of the individual. As quickly as they will stand up for my rights to a secular life, free from the tyranny of an oppressive religion (which I assume is your ideal form of government), they will stand for your right to practice whatever you want to practice.
    Are there times when I think a particular fight is silly? Sure. But that’s just because that situation doesn’t pertain to me – to someone out there it matters quite a lot.
    You should be thankful every day that the ACLU will be there to defend your right to practice your particular brand of religion. And I’ll be thankful that they’ll protect my right to AVOID your particular brand of religion. ANY brand, for that matter.

  • To take a page from an old friend when he was running for student government: These People Are All Idiots.
    Except for Tony in the first comment, and Jeff. Also, everyone but the aforementioned, your mothers wear army boots. Neener Neener.

  • Angelos

    Digby makes a good point in this post a couple days ago.
    Remember when the rightwing media, the freepers, and the “good christians” got their panties all in a twist after Whoopi made a couple “bush” puns, at a private fundraiser? Remember how they wanted Kerry to apologize?!
    Here is a classic freeper post:
    This election is shaping up to be a contest between anyone with decent or Christian values (whatever his or her usual political leanings) and the moral FILTH and POISON represented by Hollyweird and the media and advertising community, the feminazis, and the gays.
    And the wackjobs at Word Net Daily:
    How does Kerry view the voters, his church, the family and education if he postulates those things as “values inside you”? To laughingly support such an extraordinarily tasteless, vulgar, public display, one must ask not only how Kerry views the office of president, but exactly what respect has he for himself?
    But I guess jokes about stroking horse-cock, made on television, are OK. Just so we’re clear.

  • Kat

    Gee, I never knew those comments were made on TV. I thought they were made at a gathering of adults.