published Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

David Cook: The Theory of Paul Smith

Today, juniors at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will walk into their class — Human Behavior in the Social Environment — and be asked to explain the behavior of the one man behaving more like Archie Bunker than the leader of local Democrats.

Paul Smith and his joke that wasn’t.

“Why do we act the way we do?” asked Valerie Radu, who teaches the course. “Humans don’t behave in a vacuum.”

Speaking of vacuums, Smith’s joke time-machined us backwards about 60 years, when “Leave It to Beaver” was the norm. At last month’s Hamilton County Democrats’ board meeting, Smith, 75, boyishly tagged onto the agenda a short prescription for men who want a happy life.

The answer? A have a woman who cleans, cracks a good joke, tells the truth and likes sex.

Oh, and according to the joke’s last line, it takes four different women to do this work.

(Thanks, Paul. Great one. I’ll tell this joke around the dinner table to my wife and daughter.)

Notice the verb, used throughout the joke. To have. It’s possessive. As in: to have a new lawnmower. To have a new bowling ball. To have a woman.

“I have no comment,” Smith said Monday afternoon.

It’s a low-grade Greek tragedy almost when the leader of the political party designed to champion women’s rights is still stuck with a barely-Reconstructed sense of humor.

Hard to think Smith would have done this had he known the outcome.

That’s the problem: Smith’s seemingly inability to understand the foolishness of this joke and his refusal to apologize.

“I think it was tasteless,” Radu said. “But I don’t know his life experience.”

Radu and I drank coffee together yesterday morning. An old friend, she combines the intellectualism of a professor with the street smarts of an activist. She’s brilliant, but not high-brow. She took the high road with Smith’s joke, refusing to condemn him and instead pointing to the complexities of the human spectrum.

“You can’t fill in the blank from just one comment,” she said. “People are much more complicated.”

Radu’s class deals with theories and ways of knowing. When I look out at the world, how much of my view is influenced by my maleness (gender theory), my whiteness (racial theory) and the money in my wallet (class theory)?

Generally speaking, women’s ways of knowing are quite different from men’s. Same is true for straight and gay, black and white, abled and disabled. When given ample room for each view to have equal and safe footing — like at a large dinner table — the world grows. Rich with diverse thought and expression.

Ways of knowing the world. Not one way, but many.

“How do you know what truth is?” Radu asks her students on the first day of class.

Which brings us to the question: What does Paul Smith know?

That would be the question to ask at next month’s Democrat meeting. At the bottom of the agenda, someone ought to re-write the joke.

Follow for a happy political life:

1. It’s important to have an understanding that your own experience is not the only valid one.

2. It’s important to have a sense of humor, but not at the expense of others.

3. It’s important to listen to others, especially when hundreds of them are saying the same thing to you.

4. It’s important to know when to apologize (see No. 3).

5. If you can’t, then resign.

Tuesday’s online-only column is based around sharing a meal or drinks with someone in Southeast Tennessee or North Georgia. Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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fairmon said...

yaaawwwwnnnnnnn....about the only think left to do with the democratic party in Tennessee is flush. This joke was reported to have been found on an old tomb stone in Texas and may be as old as Paul Smith. I did notice someone at the TFP liked it enough to print it over and over so people could easily read it. Women accuse minorities of playing the race card but never hesitate to play the gender card.

September 25, 2012 at 4:21 a.m.
jesse said...

It's getting to the point where the only way to keep from offending someone is to keep your mouth shut from cradle to grave! Next time some one tells a geezer joke i think i will just go postal on their azz!

The last time Cook had a meaningful comment on here was during the Paul Page fiasco!

he musta got his Phd. in political correctness and softball editorials!

September 25, 2012 at 6:05 a.m.
fairmon said...

The professor sounds very intelligent and recognizes we all have different maps based on where we came from when and how we got to where we are. She also says knowing that helps us understand and accept others. Anyone offended should have told the person in private how and why it offended them which would have assured the person had an opportunity to learn from it and at least know it was not funny to others. No way in an election cycle will people not jump on anything enabling them to feign being offended, outraged or what ever to cast a bad light on an opponent. As shown here, your own team will sacrifice you for the cause. Of course journalist are looking for something to attract readers and if controversial that is better.

September 25, 2012 at 7:56 a.m.
richarddawkins said...

That's actually not bad.

Not nearly as funny as the dem party, though.

September 25, 2012 at 4:53 p.m.
richarddawkins said...

Dems don't 'champion anyone's right.'

They pander to and exploit minorities, which women are not (they're a least if your into science and objectivity) to win elections.

That anyone votes for them is pretty astounding.

September 25, 2012 at 4:59 p.m.
lambswool said...

I think it's interesting that you are quoting valerie radu who is affiliated with chattanooga organized for action. Regardless of your opinion of the joke, a group which is in non-profit status should not be masterminding a turn over of any party leader. Their group leader is destroying all of the credibility that they had built up.

September 25, 2012 at 7:13 p.m.
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