Mike: Well Cynthia, we have two columns under our belt now. One thing I’ve learned is that some people seem to take this way too seriously. Have we lost the ability to good-humoredly laugh at ourselves and each other in the political arena?
Cynthia: Lots of people are still laughing about my 2012 U.S. Senate race, but, to your point, I’m disappointed the “Aroostook Watchmen” haven’t gotten more play. Codgers talking to Gov. Paul LePage with cans and string, plotting world domination by “remonstrance?” There’s a treasure trove of untapped comedic material there!
Why the Debbie Downer zeitgeist, in your view?
Mike: Because, like we wrote about in the first column, polarization puts all sides in their corners, and they assume the worst motives from everyone else, whether you are a Republican, Democrat, independent, Green, or Bull Moose!
Couple that with the fact that media representations of elected officials turn them into caricatures with questionable intentions, and what do most people see? Paul LePage becomes the Hulk; Eliot Cutler only likes barn coats; and Mike Michaud is pro-shoes. You know all three of them — isn’t there more to each than that?
Cynthia: Hulk, Barn Coat and New Balance are all decent people with a sense of humor. On the campaign trail, however, they don’t run the show. Breathless professional fundraisers and handlers focus on raising money — constantly — and the war chest is used to define their candidate as the mirror image of what polls well. Leftover money is spent defining their opponent as voters’ worst nightmare. Joking is too risky in this high-stakes calculus. The 24-hour news cycle and social media can turn a quip about welfare in to a gaffe about Social Security on a dime. Or in a Tweet.
So the more money elections suck up, the more melodramatic, inhuman, unfunny candidates get spit out. Thank God for Jon Stewart.
Mike: And Al Diamon in Maine. But you’re right — the consultant class doesn’t like scratched veneer. Candidates are merely blank slates on which they apply their craft. That is why it is great to see real, true unscripted moments where individuals in politics can be themselves, and why local elections are so key — you can actually speak with, laugh with, and discuss issues with the candidates.
But obviously on the statewide or national level, there isn’t an ability to have those interactions — although with those nicknames we can probably start calling the candidates for governor “the Dirigo League.” So how do we shift things in our everyday lives to bring humor back? I mean, this column is fun, but I don’t think us trying to be light-hearted will save the day.
Cynthia: Mike, your modesty is refreshing. I’ve never before met a Republican guy who isn’t convinced he can save the day, and you’re probably right. Mere mortals like us can’t restore the Dirigo League’s funny powers. It will take drastic measures to get regular people laughing again about politics.
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the political insiders. Know-it-alls who bark out policy talking points and quote political speeches throw a wet blanket on any playful conversation. They forget regular people are busy working and raising kids. Most don’t have details of the fiscal year 2014 budget at their fingertips, for example, but care and have views about government spending.
Republican activists seem especially hypervigilant. If some schmuck blurts out, “at $300 million each, F-22 Raptor planes should at least come with oxygen,” GOP killjoys slap down the “you are not a patriot” card, putting a kibosh on the kibitzing. Imagine the faux moral outrage if New Balance or Barn Coat got caught watching M*A*S*H re-runs.
Mike: I thought Shakespeare started with killing all the lawyers? Although that would disproportionately impact your side of the aisle … and Barn Coat. And M*A*S*H was before my time, so I’ll let you share that joke with our readers. But don’t blame Republicans if your side isn’t patriotic enough! Because ‘merica.
Look, at the end of the day, I’ll say what I say to people who ask me about my experience working with the Afghan police. That experience reinforced my perspective that, no matter how bad things appear to be in Maine or the United States, they are still really, really, really good. And yes, we should be able to laugh about it.
Cynthia: Shakespeare, my contemporary, would definitely kill the website, “Because ‘merica.” I’m sure of it. But I agree with you, Mike. Americans are blessed and should exercise their right to laugh out loud at what’s funny in the pursuit of happiness.