Seeking a sense of humorA sense of humor is an important virtue to Americans. The president’s sense of humor is considered an element as crucial as his political caliber. Former senator Bob Dole wrote in his book, “Great Presidential Wit” that competent presidents and humorous presidents generally coincide, based on an analysis of 43 presidents. President George W. Bush and some others had writers specifically in charge of adding jokes to their speeches.
As I covered events related to the U.S. president, I got a true taste of the American political culture. At the annual White House correspondents’ dinner on April 27, President Barack Obama came in, swaggering to pop music. Throughout the event, he showed off an excellent sense of humor, using a prop combining his face and Michelle Obama’s hair. It was political satire at its best.
In speaking about Senator Marco Rubio, who’s mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate, Obama said, “The guy has not finished a single term in the Senate and he thinks he’s ready to be president. Kids these days!” The attendees burst out laughing.
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum dedication held in Texas two days earlier was also full of humor. Incumbent and former presidents evoked laughter with refined language. Former President Bill Clinton joked, “Your mother showed me some of your landscapes and animal paintings, and I thought they were great, really great. And I seriously considered calling you and asking you to do a portrait of me - until I saw the results of your sister’s hacked e-mails. Those bathroom sketches were wonderful, but at my age, I think I should keep my suit,” making even Bush himself laugh.
Former Korean presidents are also known to be quite witty, but we remember them by their stiff faces. I cannot remember an official address that made the audience laugh.
President Park Geun-hye is considered to be quite humorous. Her jokes aren’t improvised, but prepared. She wants to make sure they contain her message. When she spoke at a discussion session with college students, she asked, “Do you know how much a heart weighs when a person is in love?” She said, “It weighs a pound because it is pounding. That’s how my heart was on the way here.” However, because she adds serious messages to the jokes, people sometimes find them unfunny.
Park is touring America, and the key agenda of the summit is North Korea. Revision of the nuclear cooperation agreement, the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and historical disputes with Japan are also main topics. They are all serious and grave issues, and Park’s jokes can come in handy. I hope her refined humor and satire can surprise the members of the U.S. Congress when she speaks before them. Her classy jokes will be in juxtaposition to the reckless, impolite and harsh words of Pyongyang. It will also enhance Korea’s image of soft power. It’s okay if her jokes are not so funny, as she will certainly be distinguished from the former Korean presidents who visited America before her.
*The author is a Washington correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Sang-bok