Laughable: How McCain Abuses The Humor Card

09/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The comedy stylings of John McCain can fall awkwardly on the ear. From rape jokes to casual ditties about bombing Iran, the Arizonan's affinity for off-color utterances has been well documented. Recognizing this, his campaign appears to have settled on a strategy for turning that weakness into a strength.

From now on, it seems, each infelicitous remark or risky attack made by McCain or his campaign will be attributed to that roguish sense of humor -- regardless of whether the event in question could reasonably be construed as comedic.

The first example of this strategy emerged in the immediate aftermath of McCain's now famous "Celeb" attack ad, which compared Barack Obama's celebrity to that of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. "We think it's got a lot of humor in it, we're having fun and enjoying it," McCain told reporters in response to the backlash against the ad's curiously unfunny tone (in which a grave-sounding female voice-over artist questions whether Obama is "ready to lead").

Whether or not you believe the ad was effective, unfair or simply smart politics (or some combination thereof), the bottom line is that it was objectively serious in nature. Lines about "more foreign oil" and "higher taxes" are not the stuff of Saturday Night Live. When confronted over charges of negative campaigning, however, McCain and his campaign made an aesthetic claim instead of a substantive one -- something they probably hoped the political press would be unwilling to call out as disingenuous. After all, there's no accounting for taste, right?

On the other hand, an accounting of strategy is fair ground for political reporters. And it's become increasingly clear that, in citing humor as an evergreen excuse, the McCain campaign is guilty of not only bad faith, but something like ill humor.

How else to explain McCain's response to a reporter's question about Jerome Corsi's error-strewn, anti-Obama book? "Gotta keep your sense of humor," he said. However, the "humor" excuse doesn't quite work if your campaign has decided not to comment at all, so a spokeswoman immediately retracted McCain's statement -- alleging that the Senator thought he was responding to a question about one of his many advertisements.

This week, the humor crutch is being leaned on again. As initial reports out of the Rick Warren's Saddleback Forum made note of McCain's definition of "the rich" as those who earn more than $5 million in annual salary, we're now told the key to understanding the candidate's answer to a serious question is that he was only joking.

Hilarious as all these japes are, is it too much to suggest that the McCain campaign's continuing reliance on them falls afoul of the "straight talk" motto? After all, isn't it the job of presidential candidates to quit messing around at some point and actually deliver serious answers?

Nah, just kidding.