Today's American politics needs the mix of humor and civility heard on NPR's soon-to-end "Car Talk." Mass culture that includes self-deprecatory jokes and a friendly tone can influence the nation's political discourse.
(Page 2 of 2)
Good humor is also a form of affection, a graceful admission that the somethings need not divide us.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Monitor Political Cartoons
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Abraham Lincoln often used self-deprecatory remarks to get the country through hard times. An opponent once told Lincoln that he was being two-faced, to which he responded: “If I had two faces do you think I’d be wearing this thing?”
A journalist of the time, Henry Villard, remarked, “It would be hard to find one who tells better jokes, enjoys them better and laughs oftener than Abraham Lincoln.”
These days, if politicians in Washington are funny at all, it can be heard at the annual political roasts hosted by journalists, the Gridiron Dinner and the White House Correspondents Dinner. But those affairs are mostly private.
If popular culture is jovial and friendly, politicians will reflect that. The 1960s comedy show “Laugh-In” was able to get the serious Richard Nixon to appear on the show and self-mockingly ask “Sock it to me?” Today’s cable TV talk shows wouldn’t allow for that kind of light moment.
The coming of radio, movies, and TV in the 20th century brought a number of examples of entertainment that were both funny and respectful. “Car Talk” follows in the path of, say, the Smothers brothers or comedians George and Gracie Burns. In the 1950s sitcom “The Honeymooners,” Jackie Gleason would get angry at Audrey Meadows only to end up saying, “Honey, you’re the greatest!”
Democracies need humor. Even ancient Athens had a comedians’ club called the Group of Sixty that met in a temple to tell jokes. If Washington is ever to lighten up, then mass media must lead the way.
It’s a good thing that reruns of “Car Talk” will be on NPR for years to come.