Yes, this is what the American debate has come down to: whether Abraham Lincoln would’ve appeared on Zach Galifianakis’ internet comedy show “Between Two Ferns.”
But leave it to (ghost-written and factually shoddy) Lincoln “expert” and chairman of the loud-mouth, town-elders-from-Footloose television caucus, Mr. Bill O’Reilly, to presume that the 16th President of the United States would absolutely turn down an opportunity, were he president today, to appear on an internet show in order to promote his agenda. This is where we are as a nation, folks: would Lincoln deign to appear on a show with the guy from the Hangover movies?
First and foremost, if Lincoln were alive today he never would’ve been elected president. He just isn’t pretty enough, and there was also his high-pitched voice and awkward mannerisms, too. (When speaking in public, Lincoln would occasionally crouch down and leap into the air with his arms uplifted in a “touchdown” motion. You know, for emphasis. Howard Dean’s peculiar yalp in 2004 was nothing.)
But if by some miracle the highly superficial and stupendously cynical American voting public had elected Lincoln instead of Obama five years ago, they probably would’ve observed a president who wasn’t the dour, bedraggled chief executive with miles of bad corduroy road carved into his scruffy, mule-kicked face. We know for a fact that even while managing unprecedented Civil War carnage, Lincoln was well versed in stacks of humorous stories and jokes, and would often hold court repeating his library of memorized zingers.
That’s not to say he was a barrel of laughs all the time, as we can plainly see in those Alexander Gardner photos. The emotional and physical strain he endured due to the unimaginable pressures of a war and its accompanying stakes are well documented.
Even then, yes, President Lincoln could still tell a good fart joke. Yes, really. This fart joke, for example:
“Well there was a party once, not far from here, which was composed of ladies and gentlemen. A fine table was set and the people were greatly enjoying themselves. Among the crowd was one of those men who had audacity–was quick-witted–cheeky and self-possessed–never off his guard on any occasion. After the men & women had enjoyed themselves by dancing, promenading, flirting, and so on, they were told that the supper was set. The man of audacity–quick-witted–self-possessed and equal to all occasions–was put at the head of the table to carve the turkeys, chickens, and pigs. The men and women surrounded the table and the audacious man, being chosen carver, whetted his great carving knife with the steel and got down to business, and commenced carving the turkey, but he expended too much force and let a fart–a loud fart so that all the people heard it distinctly. Of course it shocked all terribly. A deep silence reigned. However, the audacious man was cool and entirely self-possessed; he was curiously and keenly watched by those who knew him well, they suspecting that he would recover in the end and acquit himself with glory. The man, with a kind of sublime audacity, pulled off his coat–rolled up his sleeves–put his coat deliberately on a chair–spat on his hands–took his position at the head of the table–picked up the carving knife and whetted it again, never cracking a smile nor moving a muscle of his face. It now became a wonder in the minds of all the men and women how the fellow was to get out of his dilemma. He squared himself and said loudly and distinctly–“Now, by God, I’ll see if I can’t cut up this turkey without farting.”
Wow. A fart joke. And a really long one, told while the nation was violently dissolving — while thousands of men on both sides were being pulverized on battlefields from Cold Harbor to Murfreesboro. And during it all, Lincoln was coping with the death of his young son Willie, as well as the First Lady’s anguish about it. But there it is: one of many jokes Lincoln told at public gatherings and elsewhere. It’s not difficult, by the way, to imagine Lincoln telling the same joke at the expense of “self-possessed” and “audacious” Bill O’Reilly.
So don’t insult our intelligence, Bill. But wait, wait — he’s a Lincoln expert, after all! He published a book and everything. And Tom Hanks narrated a documentary based on that book, and it aired on the same channel that hosts such shows as the Space Alien Show and the Swamp Urchin Show and let’s not forget the Bigfoot Is Real Show! So, booooooo, Mr. Obama, for doing something a Lincoln expert like Bill O’Reilly says Lincoln would never do.
Lincoln aside, this line of attack from O’Reilly fits squarely within all of the other memes about Obama from the very beginning. Obama invented funny, exotic presidential names (you know, like Grover Cleveland, Millard Fillmore and Mitt Romney). Obama invented Teleprompters. Obama invented executive orders. Obama invented NSA surveillance. And now, Obama invented the clearly undignified and inappropriate idea of telling jokes while president. Gasp!
Just a few other things from O’Reilly’s Talking Points Memo segment. O’Reilly went on to say that a “president under intense scrutiny” shouldn’t do a comedy show. Since when is that a rule? I mean, aren’t all presidents under intense scrutiny? George W. Bush appeared on “Deal Or No Deal” starring that guy who used to inflate rubber gloves on is head in the 1980s, and I’m old enough to remember how much scrutiny Bush was under at the time, plus, you know, several wars.
O’Reilly also criticized the Ferns bit because Vladimir Putin evidently thinks Obama is weak. This, again, is remarkable to me. While we have troops in harm’s way and while we’re trying to unravel a precarious situation in Ukraine, O’Reilly continues to rubber-stamp the (unverified) views of an unhinged dictator who recently invaded another sovereign nation, using it as a pretext to accuse the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military of being weak. Again, no one knows exactly how Putin feels. Angela Merkel thinks Putin’s lost his mind, so maybe he’s thinking about sliding down the Sochi luge course, his manboobs slathered in tapioca, wearing nothing but rubber pants while rapping the lyrics for “Blueberry Hill.” We just don’t know.
Nevertheless, the far-right is clearly exploiting this opportunity to repeat and to project onto Putin or any other despot their own twisted caricature of Obama as a spindly, unqualified waif (in a few week’s they’ll be back to their “Obama Is A Ruthless, Cold-hearted Chicago Thug” meme).
Seriously, if we’re doing this now — if we’re saying presidents can’t have a sense of humor — then let’s go all the way. This new rule should heretofore not only apply to past presidents whose records must now be reconsidered based on any documented instances of silliness, but it especially applies to all future presidents of either party who should now conform to Bill O’Reilly’s personal standard for hopelessly grim tight-assitude.
And that means no fart jokes. Ever.