There used to be a stereotype in Washington that Republicans did not smile. They looked like George Will. By contrast, Hubert Humphrey, the “Happy Warrior,” used to revel in hilarity and crackle with jokes about his adversaries and about himself. John F. Kennedy was always ready with some witticism or jocular comment. But not Republicans.
How times have changed! Now it seems rare to see a picture of the Reaganites when they are NOT smiling. Maybe it started with William F. Buckley, who discovered the secret of grinning broadly while saying the most outrageous things. Every year he seems to be driving his laugh meter higher.
But the always-smiling trademark for Republicans probably belongs to Ronald Reagan. It is almost as if his smile is isconnected from his speech–each mode of communication ssues from separate cerebral origins. The other day the resident modestly smiled even as he called the 19-year-old icaraguan who made unexpected assertions at a State epartment news conference a “liar.” Regularly, he comments on rave matters of state with smiles.
Almost everyone around Reagan now appears to be grinning long with their boss. No matter how bad economic conditions re, no matter how much worse the domestic suffering and foreign rises become, Reagan’s men are still in a convivial state.
James Watt, the giveaway secretary of the interior, just oves to throw his head back and laugh uproariously when asked tough question or challenged. “Some of my best friends are iberals,” he responded to a question on “Meet the Press” bout his earlier statement that “There are liberals and there re Americans.” Watt uses jokes to evade questions.
Then there is formerly very somber Alexander Haig, ecretary of state. He’s learned the advantages of quipstering rom his mentor, Henry Kissinger. Not long ago, Haig dismissed s impossible a news report on leaked minutes of his candid onversations inside the State Department because the notes ead too clearly. This is known as turning his prior alapropisms to present advantage.
Vice President George Bush has discovered the many uses of the ha-ha as well. Last month he denied he had ever uttered the term “voodoo economics” during the presidential primary campaign to describe the policies of his then-opponent Ronald Reagan. After a television network pulled a videotape from its library showing candidate Bush precisely using that phrase in 1980, the vice president said that his denial had been said only in jest.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with politicians’ having a sense of humor. They need it to give themselves a little perspective, a little break from their burdens. A sage once said, “In humor there is truth.” But many Reaganites employ hilarity too often as a way of dissembling or avoiding the truth or as an evasion to paper over some pretty awful policies. Television can be used all too effectively as a medium for such superficial stratagems. The master, Ronald Reagan, demonstrates to millions of people regularly on television how he perfects his image of a nice guy.
As the Reagan wrecking crews work to demolish the safeguards of our democracy and the pillars of our compassion in the process of turning Washington over to Wall Street, they are smiling, laughing, joking, wise-cracking and spouting gags all the way to 1984. At which time the voters are surely going to ask them: What’s so funny?