Note to President Obama: Take a lesson from Johnny Carson’s playbook.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fifty-four minutes? Really?? In President Obama’s defense, maybe he was auditioning for a teaching position at the community college by giving a lecture in failed public policy.

Johnny Carson, the legendary late night comedian, was a genius at saving bad jokes, often turning duds into his monologue’s funniest moments. One of his techniques was to start explaining the joke, pretending, hope against hope that, if only the audience understood what he was trying to say, they’d realize his comic genius. Sometimes he’d pull down the overhead mike and rap on it to make sure it was working. In fact, it was the faux explanation that was the real joke. What he knew, and leveraged to the hilt, was that, if you had to explain it, it probably wasn’t that funny in the first place.

Yesterday, in front roughly 1,500 people at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, President Obama delivered a major campaign address to explain his economic policy and accomplishments that, he realizes, do not speak for themselves. Fifty-four, often boring and repetitive minutes later, it’s still not clear exactly what he wanted to tell us, other than, “Give me another chance, please.” It was fifty-four minutes of rhetoric we’ve all heard before and that, no matter how well-intentioned, will in no way whatsoever will help to solve the major economic, fiscal and social problems we’re facing. Words, no matter how well crafted, do not change reality. At best, they can have a momentary impact on perceptions, but it’s not a long-lasting effect in light of continuing un- and under-employment, and stupendous budget deficits.

It’s ironic that President Obama, who is from Illinois, “Land of Lincoln,” actually talked briefly about President Lincoln in his speech yesterday.

But I do share the belief of our first Republican president from my home state, Abraham Lincoln, that through government we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.

And yet it was Lincoln, who is alleged by some to have said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” or words to that effect. Whether Lincoln actually said that is less important than the relevance of the saying to political speech-making. (By the way, Lincoln was right. Unfortunately, his statement is interpreted very differently by the President Obama and his opponent, Mitt Romney.)

President Obama won in 2008 based on the novelty of his name, his complexion and extraordinary oratory – running against an old man who is a relatively poor public speaker and who had other deficiencies (Sarah Palin, for example) as a candidate. That advantage has long since been wasted by real life situations that President Obama has been ill-prepared to handle.

Note to President Obama: Take a lesson from Johnny Carson. If you have to explain your Presidency and economic policies for 54 minutes, maybe they’re not all that funny.

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