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October 18, 2011 9:30 AM Humor is hard, redux

By Steve Benen

It’d be a shame if politicians became so afraid of spontaneity that they never joked around, avoided light-hearted moments, and never strayed from their scripts. That said, politicians also need to realize that being funny can be tricky and that it’s sometimes hard to find humor in some serious subjects.

Late last week, for example, Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain said his response to the “crisis of illegal immigration” is to create an electrified fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, killing those who tried to enter the country illegally. Cain said on Sunday his comments were “a joke,” though the video suggested otherwise.

Yesterday, the far-right candidate switched gears again — Cain was serious about the idea he was kidding about. (thanks to M.C. for the tip)

“Let me first say it was a joke, and some people don’t think that it was a good joke, and it’s probably not a joke that you’re supposed to make if you’re a presidential candidate,” Cain continued. “I apologize if it offended anyone. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.”

Only, it might not be a joke, he later said, before finally saying he just doesn’t want to offend anyone.

“I don’t like to offend anyone … however, I don’t apologize for using a combination of a fence. And it might be electrified — I’m not walking away from that,” Cain backtracked. “I just don’t want to offend anybody. It was a joke to the extent in the context of the views of that speech, but in terms of what we need to do, I fully intend to do so because I’m more sensitive to our citizens being hurt.”

Maybe when Cain said he was joking, that was when he was joking?

The bottom line, at least until he changes his mind again, is that Cain actually wants a fence that would kill immigrants, and If he’s elected, that’s what he “fully intends” to do.

Let’s also note that Cain isn’t the only Republican struggling with comedic stylings lately. Cain is “joking” (but not really) about killing immigrants; Mike Huckabee is joking (again) about Republicans using illegal voter-suppression tactics; and Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) joked, “In Arizona, sometimes to gain office you have to have shot someone,” a line Gabrille Giffords’ family probably wouldn’t appreciate.

Maybe someone can buy a copy of “Comedy for Dummies” and send it over to the RNC.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • jlt on October 18, 2011 9:38 AM:

    One must admit that cain is more funny than any of the other candidates...Not that that will help the gop!

    But the media is doing some of the job for the republicans;

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2116/media-primary-news-coverage-blogs-republican-presidential-race-barack-obama-rick--perry-herman-cain

  • berttheclock on October 18, 2011 9:40 AM:

    Had only his crowds remained silent. They were cheering him on and he kept playing to his crowds. They got the "joke".

  • RepublicanPointOfView on October 18, 2011 9:46 AM:

    You liberals may believe that Cain's joke was in bad taste and not funny! Does not mean that a large portion of our republican base would not enjoy it.

    However, there is a good sized segment of republican base that would be offended by what Cain said. It would interfere with their desired method of illegals control; that of having an open year-round hunting season on brown people.

  • Ten Bears on October 18, 2011 9:46 AM:

    Wow! Back tracking a backtracked backtrack. That takes talent.

  • martin on October 18, 2011 9:47 AM:

    Maybe someone can buy a copy of “Comedy for Dummies” and send it over to the RNC.

    The problem isn't so much as they can't do comedy, it's that they are dummies.

  • Lifelong Dem on October 18, 2011 9:49 AM:

    Democrats always have to apologize for their jokes. Republicans never do.

  • c u n d gulag on October 18, 2011 9:50 AM:

    When is a joke not a joke?

    When the butt of it is you, or someone like you.

    So, frying Messicans on fences are ha-ha moments for some.

    But something tells me that if someone tried to 'hang racism around Cain's neck,' he wouldn't find THAT funny.

    As Mel Brooks once said:
    "Tragedy is when I cut my finger.
    Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die!"

  • Danp on October 18, 2011 9:55 AM:

    I'm sure Marie Antoinette was just joking when she said, "let them eat cake," but I'm not sure an apology would have helped much. Jokes tend not to work unless there is some contrast with reality. With Cain's immigration policy suggestions, Rebublican voter suppression policies and constant Republican violent rhetoric combined with the actions of their followers, Cain, Huckabee and Franks don't begin to make that distinction between reality and parody.

  • ComradeAnon on October 18, 2011 9:57 AM:

    So a joker was joking about joking?

    Jees, more scientific symbols from captcha. Speaking of jokes...

  • FRP on October 18, 2011 10:06 AM:

    Sing a song of six deaths
    A pocketful of wry
    Four and twenty Mexicans
    Baked on a fence

    When the fence was cleaned
    The profiteers began to sing
    Oh what a dainty dish
    To set before a dull unfinished liar ,
    Who has left his poisons out
    Wishing to show who will be a killing King

  • zandru on October 18, 2011 10:07 AM:

    And Another Winner for the GOP!

    When Cain talks about electrocuting poor Mexicans who are already braving arrest and even death in the hopes of earning money to support their families, not to mention the even more innocent migratory birds and animals, he gets a big laugh from his brutal and callous base. That's one!

    When the usual libruls get out the smelling salts and shriek their mommy-state objections, Cain can say It was a joke. Didn't you get it? You must not understand humor." That's two!

    Conclusion: everything is a win for the GOP, because They Know How To Spin.

    So we can do it, too.

  • jheartney on October 18, 2011 10:11 AM:

    I think the real joke is that Cain's strategy depends on Mexicans having never heard of wirecutters and rubber gloves.

  • Surreal American on October 18, 2011 10:17 AM:

    Imagine Cain as President.
    You couldn't if you tried.
    No tax to pay for used food.
    And the borders are electrified.

    Imagine all the people, scrounging day-to-day.

  • Neil B on October 18, 2011 10:21 AM:

    The trouble with most Republican pols is that they're so deranged and mean-spirited, it's literally hard (and I do literally mean that) to appreciate whether they do really want things like lethal electrified fences (not the purpose of EFs anyway, even prisons: they're supposed to put up an additional, pain and shock barrier to getting out (like the invisible fences for dogs.) These people are on the edge, really, in the bad sense.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on October 18, 2011 10:34 AM:

    @ c u n d gulag

    Exactly , See Obama Impersonator at GOP Forum who was a riot until he started "joking" about Republicans.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZS5aPCAd8Ho

  • DAY on October 18, 2011 10:36 AM:

    Nice work, Surreal American!

    Like the late Emmett Kelly, many Republicans can be funny, without ever opening their mouths.

  • berttheclock on October 18, 2011 10:40 AM:

    Yesterday, the Oregonian reprinted an article by Leonard Pitts, Jr attacking Cain for Cain's attacks against African-Americans. There are, usually, several right wingers who respond to columns, but, yesterday, out of 70 comments, the responses were mostly from those who called the African-American columnist Pitts, a racist for going after their new Fav. One went so far as to write, "After Obama, Cain is a breath of fresh air".

  • toowearyforoutrage on October 18, 2011 10:45 AM:

    Giving credit where's it's due, it's quite a practical suggestion. Texas is a large part of the border and they're REALLY good at executing innocent people.

    To point out the bleeding obvious, can we give credit to illegal immigrants for having some brains?
    The coyotes and even those that bring themselves would likely hear that the fence was about to become deadly so no immigrants would actually die. Despite Cain's fans greatest desires to fry swarthy people, their bloodlust shall go unsated by this plan.

    That said, the fence will occasionally hurt or kill someone when the coyote doesn't dig the trench under the fence deep enough or someone falls off the wooden ladder climbing over it.

    I really want to know if conservaives think Mexicans are so dumb they can't get around ANY obstacle keeping them away from jobs that pay 10x what they can get back home.

    If Canadians paid 100k to mow lawns and they only penalty for breaking in was we'd be sent home free of charge, do conservatives feel confident Canadians could build ANY fence that could keep US out? The fact they think Mexicans can't defeat static border defenses is racist at its core, and colossally stupid by consequence.


  • Stevio on October 18, 2011 11:00 AM:

    Sweet baby Jesus.

    My Italian friends think we have become a scary country. I think we are well past that. One wonders what Jefferson would be thinking right about noTruly nauseating...

  • mike reilly on October 18, 2011 11:47 AM:

    I suggest everyone watch The Coneheads again. Great scene where Michael McKean (in the immigration department) demonstrates his dream electrified fence for the Mexican border to his assistant (another SNL regular)... using clayfigures as they sneak up on the fence and explode in fire on contact. Hilarious.

  • liam foote on October 18, 2011 12:09 PM:

    " ... It was a joke to the extent in the context of the views of that speech, but in terms of what we need to do, I fully intend to do so ... " (Herman Cain)

    You have to admit that it is very hard to argue with this assertion.

  • doubtful on October 18, 2011 12:50 PM:

    Kochcain is nothing but a distraction, just like Perry, Bachmann, Trump, Palin, etc.

    I keep seeing is spun as the rank and vile being disappointed with Romney as the eventual nominee, but honestly, I see it as shielding Romney from tacking too far to the right during the primaries.

    Where so many see floundering, I see an organized attempt to preserve a candidate. All he has to do is keep his mouth shut, rake in the Wall Street moolah and enjoy the ride.

  • toowearyforoutrage on October 18, 2011 12:57 PM:

    Sequel to cund gulag's clip.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8fZsANmWGo&feature=related

    Why did Republicans cut off the Obama impersonator?

    Can you say... "thin-skinned"?

  • Daniel Kim on October 18, 2011 1:46 PM:

    I think that "What's the matter? Can't take a joke?" is the refuge of the bully. I am not convinced that he was just trying to lighten the mood; I think he spoke his honest opinion but lacked the conviction to stand by his words when there was some pushback.

  • Texas Aggie on October 18, 2011 4:45 PM:

    The two biggest reasons that South Texans are opposed to ANY fence is that a lot of their economy depends on Mexicans crossing the border to buy stuff. Laredo, McAllen and El Paso are prime examples.

    The other reason that conservative South Texans are opposed to the fence is that their cattle will no longer be able to get to the Rio Grande to drink. And once someone's cattle get killed by touching an electric fence, I suspect that Cain will reap some wrath.

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