COMMENTARY | President Barack Obama was quite the comedian at the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday, according to CNN. The event took a decided turn toward the wacky side with Obama poking fun at his presumed opponent Mitt Romney and himself. Despite the somewhat edgy nature of the jokes, Obama showed a remarkable grasp of political strategy with his words.
Humor has several remarkable qualities in politics. It lets a politician blunt the blades of his opponents' attacks.
Obama ridiculed several items about himself, including a segment from his book "Dreams of My Father" in which he confessed to having been fed dog meat as a youngster. This fact has been highlighted by the Romney campaign in an attempt to make Obama look bad. One gag about it being a "boy-eat-dog world" by the president and it's now a joke, worthless to Romney as a political weapon.
Humor also lets a politician attack a candidate without seeming negative about it.
Obama prodded vigorously at Romney's treatment of family dogs, including his own, rumored to have been caged and strapped to Romney's automobile. A spoof "Romney campaign" ad showing Air Force One with a dog cage strapped to the roof while Romney spouts anti-Obama campaign branded the president's likely challenger as hateful toward beloved pets.
Finally, humor lets politicians connect with the public in ways nothing else can. As Americans we like candidates who can suit up and act "presidential" when necessary. George W. Bush, arguably one of the worst of all presidents, proved that acting like the kind of guy you can sit down with over a beer and just goof around is very ingratiating. Obama's humor gives him the same kind friendly, likeable appearance.
Romney might not have learned to capitalize on humor yet. He's still debating whether or not to appear on "Saturday Night Live," according to CNN. "SNL" makes lampooning politicians a staple of its broadcasts, especially during election cycles. Romney is missing the opportunity to pull the fangs from their jokes by refusing so far to appear on the show.
If he doesn't use the power of humor on his behalf quickly the joke will be on him in November when he loses the general election to Obama.