Humor and Integrity: A Guide on Evaluating the Democratic Candidates

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET

Anyone who has ever taken on the task of persuading another person to
consider another point of view must decide whether to incorporate humor into
her presentation.

We've all sat through the safe lecture in college that was intended to
offend no one, and succeeded. More to the point, these humorless lectures
also typically failed, for me at least, in providing further elucidation on
the subject at hand. Sadly, my recollection of these monologues, at least
those few that I can recall, was that I rarely experienced that "aha"
moment; the epiphany that dramatically shifts the light and air in which one
views a hitherto understood human experience.

I don't know whether the act of laughing creates a sympathetic connection
between the storyteller and the listener, thus conditioning the listener to
be more open to the information about to be imparted, or if there is
another, say, biochemical reaction that occurs in the brain when laughter
occurs, that creates a more open-minded subject. Music in church comes to
mind, as an analogous example of one form of communication that may be
utilized to say, lubricate, the persuasive potential of the forthcoming
sermon intended to change behavior for, well, at least the rest of the week.

So, the question then becomes for those of us who feel compelled to share
our outrage at the hands of a Republican Party drunk on power with those who
have not yet had a visceral reaction to the continued demise of our
democracy is how to thoughtfully include humor in order to make the maximum
impact while offending the fewest number of people.

No easy task, this.

There are the obvious problems of timing and presence. I tend to think
that you are either born a storyteller, or you are not. You can get better
with practice but we all know people who've got the gift and they certainly
have a head start.

Beyond the presentation issues, there is the sticky question of whether to
incorporate irony, cynicism and/or sarcasm into a persuasive conversation
about politics. Very briefly, sarcasm is intended to ridicule, irony is
using words usually to mean the opposite to their meaning, and cynicism is
an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity.

My own opinion is that sarcasm and cynicism garner easy laughs but will
likely cause very few non-believers to change their world views, especially
if they are also experiencing cognitive dissonance and are sticking by their
'man' no matter what. In addition, I believe that the use of irony
requires a level of sophistication well above that of cynicism and sarcasm
because it's always easier to tell fat jokes and be mean then to get your
listeners thinking. Jon Stewart is the master of irony and if you watch him
enough, you can see why guests representing Far Right views routinely come
onto his show. I believe they know that Stewart will not skewer them with
scorn (though he may believe they are deserving of scorn, or worse) and they
are hoping that his use of irony on a show watched by the already converted
will not cause significant numbers of the entrenched GOP Base to abandon the
GOP...possibly because they know that being able to interpret irony demands a
level of sophistication that most of the folks still hanging onto Cheney's
and Ann Coulter's views (both profligate employers of cynicism and sarcasm),
aren't likely to have the chops to understand the ironic underpinnings of
Stewart's jokes.

So, the question then becomes how does a passionate progressive who isn't
comfortable employing the tool of irony into her speech change minds and
influence people. I believe that there is only one path for such folks and
it is only open to certain fortunate individuals. And that path is the
possession of integrity...plain and simple.

The lucky policy-makers who possess integrity get a hall pass from having to
worry whether their speechwriters have intelligently parsed between the
split hairs of cynicism, sarcasm, and irony. They don't need to worry
whether they add a punch at the end of the sentence or whether they wait for
the applause line.

I've had the pleasure of witnessing a few of these folks as a political
consultant and grass-roots activist, and I believe that their deliveries are
better because they convey the sincerity that is so lacking in the halls of
power. New Congressman Jerry McNerney from the 11th Congressional
District of California comes to mind. So does fabulous Loni Hancock,
Assembly Woman from the 14th AD of California, champion of clean money in
politics and other worthwhile causes. And, as I continue to watch Senator
Harry Reid, I am reminded as to why I care so deeply about our democracy.
It isn't because I ever believe that I will be invited to share a beer over
a backyard bbq with any of these folks---what many pollsters tell us as to
how voters make up their minds--but because integrity and love for our
country and its constitution are so clearly the guiding principles of these
worthy individuals.

I encourage all those who would evaluate their candidates based upon a flip
or smooth delivery to reconsider. Humor is important, but I'll take
integrity any day