It's called "silly season" for a reason. There's a presidential campaign going on.
Unfortunately, this year's presidential campaign hasn't included much silly at all. And may never. It seems stuck in deadly serious mode as the candidates trade applause lines without a hint of humor. Especially good humor.
But just because the campaign isn't silly doesn't mean that Joe Biden can be taken seriously. Far from it. Speaking of the Romney-Ryan ticket before a largely black audience the other day, he informed his listeners, "They're going to put y'all back in chains." That's our vice president's idea of elevated rhetoric. But what are you gonna do? Besides pray fervently for the good health of the president of the United States. Every administration has an embarrassment, the way every family has that one brother-in-law.
Mr. Biden is equally trustworthy on the subject of geography, telling the same Virginia audience that, with its help, Obama-Biden could carry North Carolina.
The vice president sounds like a statesman, however, when compared to Nancy Pelosi, the decidedly former majority leader of the House (for a good reason) who's a kind of bottomless well of partisan clichés. Humorous she's not.
And no one would confuse Harry Reid with a comedian.
Republicans make the mistake of firing back with the same degree of levity -- in other words, none at all.
Last week a Democratic campaign manager was trying his hand at standup comedy, and proved only that he ought to stick with his day job. Whatever that is, he's got to be better at it than he is at humor. His idea of clever repartee was to make the Romney campaign an offer it could (and did) refuse. The man running the president's campaign for re-anointment said he'd lay off the Republican presidential candidate if only Mitt Romney would release five years of his tax returns -- instead of only the couple of years' worth he's started to make public.
The Romney campaign didn't see any humor in the offer, maybe because (a) there wasn't any, and (b) Republicans seem constitutionally unable to see the humor in anything. Maybe it's something in their genome.
The Republican campaign manager -- being a campaign manager and a Republican, a double disability -- answered his Democratic counterpart's attempt at a joke with . . . talking points. As in: "It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney's tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending. . . ." Yadda, yadda, yadda. Please. Spare us.
What this campaign needs is a happy warrior, and what it gets is campaign managers trading remarks only campaign managers could think were clever.
The original Happy Warrior, Franklin D. Roosevelt, knew better than to swap boilerplate jibes with the opposition. Instead, he rose above all that with his shining optimism in the worst of times, what with a Great Depression at home and Hitler and Stalin about to carve up Europe between them, while Tojo and Hirohito would take care of the Eastern hemisphere.
What, FDR be downcast? This nation, he knew, would endure as it had endured -- and he said so in his First Inaugural, delivered in the best spirit in the worst of times. For he knew that humor is as transcendent as faith, uniting and strengthening us all.
Later there would be more bad news -- Will Rogers, the kind of good-humored yet incisive commentator who is not only rare but just about extinct today -- had died in an air crash together with his buddy and fellow adventurer Wiley Post. Roosevelt was called on to deliver a short address from Hyde Park on the dedication of the Will Rogers Memorial at Claremore, Okla., and this is what he said:
"This afternoon we pay grateful homage to the memory of a man who helped the nation to smile. . . . I doubt if there is among us a more useful citizen than the one who holds the secret of banishing gloom, of making tears give way to laughter, of supplanting desolation and despair with hope and courage. For hope and courage always go with a light heart."
Americans seem to have forgotten that homely lesson. Instead we confuse humor with the kind of cynical jabs our current late-night "comics" think are funny.
Wanted: A presidential candidate -- or even a vice-presidential candidate -- who can not only roll with the punches but rise above them with a smile. So cheer up, fellow Americans, and keep this good thought:
Not even an American presidential campaign can last forever. It just may seem that long.