Humor under pressure

His race for Dufur public office was not going well.

His race for Dufur public office was not going well.

The voters in Dufur (DOO-fur), a small town in Oregon, were leaning to his opponent in overwhelming numbers — or at least as overwhelming as a town of 500 can muster.

That’s when he made the remark that changed everything. With his campaign in dire trouble — and his support dwindling — he began walking all over town announcing to everyone within earshot: “Ask not what Dufur can do fer you, ask what you can do fer Dufur!”

That was all.

It turned the election around (issues, shmissues) and he won in a landslide. A small one, of course.

Of course, the authenticity of the preceding story is highly dubious. After all, it was told to me by my dad, a man known for hyperbole — and that’s no exaggeration. But he claimed that it really did happen to a politician friend of his — and Dad always told the story as an example of a “joke under pressure.”

In this presidential election year, there are a lot of candidate qualities we voters can observe: knowledge of the issues, skill at debating, ability to kiss babies — even the homely ones — and more. But it’s also worth noting a candidate’s sense of humor — and how willing and able they are to use it, especially on themselves.

The former TV talk-show host Dick Cavett — who now writes an occasional blog for the New York Times — said that if he had been advising the Hillary Clinton campaign, he’d have recommended that she walk onstage at one of her recent appearances wearing a flap jacket.

The sight gag may have effectively made fun of the flap that happened in the wake of her story about landing under sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia — and shown an ability to laugh at herself too.

Cavett also thinks that just as surely as a president needs advisors of all kinds, he or she should also hire a comedy writer or two. Some people may not think much of the idea, but lots of unemployed comedy writers would probably support it.

But it’s especially impressive when a president, without the benefit of a writer, teleprompter or cue cards can manage to toss off a witticism of his or her very own. Abraham Lincoln makes almost everyone’s list of the very best. He was funny, self-effacing — and, of course, had the stovepipe hat. He probably would have still been funny without it, but it didn’t hurt. Some experts think Dennis Kucinich could have gone all the way if he’d worn a beanie.

One time, when debate opponent called Lincoln “two-faced,” Abe turned to the crowd and said, “If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?”

There are some historians who think that a popular clown of the day named Dan Rice was a friend of Lincoln’s — and might have been the source of many of the president’s jokes. But who wants to believe that? I’d rather think that it was Lincoln himself came up with all his own stuff. How funny could a guy named Dan Rice be? Shecky Rice maybe, but not Dan.

One time, Lincoln told one of his lazier generals to keep him informed of what exactly was going on in the field during the war. The general decided to send a sarcastic telegram to Lincoln: “We have just captured six cows. What should we do with them?” Lincoln wrote him back: “Milk them.”

There is another story about a persistent office-seeker who came to Lincoln one day with some news: “Mr. President, the chief of customs has just died. Do you think I might be considered to take his place?” Lincoln looked at him and said, “It’s OK with me, if the undertaker doesn’t mind.”

That joke has a similar construction to the one from Ronald Reagan years ago when he was running for a second term. At the time, he was in his early 70’s — and the question of his advancing age was becoming a potential issue. That’s when Reagan famously said, “I will not make age an issue in this campaign — and I will not exploit my opponent’s (Walter Mondale) youth and inexperience.”

John McCain, himself hearing murmurs about his age at present, ought to think about picking an opportunity of his own to say something like, “As a boy, I remember dreaming of becoming president someday like Abraham Lincoln. And I told him so one time.”

Of course, being witty is no guarantee of victory. Attesting to that is th1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole, arguably one of our funnier contemporary politicians. But Dole does point out after all that it’s our very own Declaration of Independence that gives laughter a solid third billing: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I haven’t decided which candidate I’m voting for this year, but it definitely won’t be for a grump. Unless it’s one with a really solid tax plan.

Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at pat@patcashman.com


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@redmond-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.redmond-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Vaccinations improve our health and employment numbers | Brunell

It is not surprising that COVID-19, which ravaged the world, was disastrous… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Firefighters vs. the governor’s vaccine mandate | Roegner

We all thought we were in this fight with the coronavirus together,… Continue reading

Providence employees look at anti-vaccine mandate protesters as they cross the street outside of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett on Aug. 18, 2021. Olivia Vanni/Sound Publishing
Editorial: A message to the unvaccinated and unmasked

We know you’re frustrated with mandates and advice, but consider our frustrations and, yes, our anger.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Next year’s elections are already underway | Roegner

The 2021 session of the Washington State Legislature was dominated by the… Continue reading

Screenshot of Voice of America footage from the August 2021 scene at Kabul’s international airport in Afghanistan.
What the Afghan wants to say | Guest column

The American interest in Afghanistan goes back to the Cold War era,… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
King County executive wins battle with suburbs over inquests | Roegner

Since 1854, when Washington was a territory, inquests have been required whenever… Continue reading

In a three-day event ahead of the November 2020 elections, the voting center at Federal Way’s Performing Arts and Event Center saw 1,433 voters, which included 466 newly registered voters. File photo
Editorial: Baseless claims of fraud threaten voter confidence

Without evidence of fraud, it’s those alleging irregularities who are a threat to election integrity.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal told a crowd in Port Angeles he would like to see school districts have the ability to increase their local levies. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)
Message from state superintendent regarding school employee vaccinations

After a year and a half of remote and hybrid learning, my… Continue reading

A Sept. 10, 2020, satellite image shows smoke from U.S. wildfires blanketing the majority of the West Coast. (European Space Agency)
Editorial: The UN climate report, ‘The Lorax’ and us

The report and the Dr. Seuss classic offer a dire warning — and hope — for responding to climate change.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Look forward to an exciting November election | Roegner

King County Executive Dow Constantine was expected to win the August primary,… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
It’s time to rethink Washington’s long-term care law | Brunell

Time is short, but action is necessary. Gov. Jay Inslee and Democrats… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Back to work? With new virus strain, maybe not | Roegner

COVID-19 has made the workplace more hazardous because the virus, particularly the… Continue reading