Unemployment Is Not Funny


President Obama provoked howls of outrage when he tried to laugh his way past 9% unemployment and a trillion dollars in wasted “stimulus” money the other day.  “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected,” he chirped.

Imagine your business had been run into the ground by a manager as incompetent as Obama, who proceeded to admit he was wrong about a crucial idea he used to talk about incessantly, and then cracked a little joke about it.  One reason he wouldn’t do that is because you’d sack him immediately, not make a note to vote against him in a hotly contested national election a year and a half from now.

Now we have been treated to the comedy stylings of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who told a group of unemployed workers in Florida, “I’m also unemployed.”  He went on to jest that “I have my sights on a particular job.”

Romney’s estimated net worth is about $200 million.  I don’t think he’s worried about his unemployment benefits running out.

In both cases, the audience laughed along with the joke, but it didn’t settle terribly well with a wider national audience.  Romney is not in office, so unlike Obama, he bears no personal responsibility for that horrible unemployment rate… but I think struggling private-sector America has little patience for unemployment jokes from any member of the political class.

One of the oldest predilections of American politicians is their desire to portray themselves as “just one of us.”  To cite a notable recent example, Congressman Anthony Weiner made a point of mentioning his “middle class” origins several times during his resignation speech.  To some degree or other, they all do this.  To some degree, the electorate expects them to. 

We should probably work to overcome that sweet tooth for populism.  Even politicians with solid records of achievement in the private sector, like Romney, are still politicians.  They are running for public office, not applying for a position as CEO, or shift manager at the local diner.  No one involved in the process should be pretending otherwise. 

We should have certain expectations of our officials, and one of the reasons our government is so deformed is that we let them get away with masquerading as regular private-sector Joes, when the government faces none of the accountability imposed upon private companies.  Even in the most limited government, officials will have power, by definition.  They should be trying to prove themselves worthy of being entrusted with it, not acting – even in jest – as if they might be joining us at the local sports bar for a pitcher of beer and hot wings after they swing by the unemployment office to pick up their check.

Humor does help people get through tough times.  Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney is personally living through those tough times.  That’s one reason it’s not really funny when they act as if they are.