Updated: Sep 5, 2018
Our colleague’s return from the recent Edinburgh Fringe festival reminded us of the useful role which humour can play in certain circumstances. In particular, we recalled how Ronald Reagan used it to good effect.
Following a career in Hollywood, Reagan entered politics, becoming governor of California before twice being elected President of the United States in 1980 and 1984. At the age of 69, Reagan was the oldest elected President. Understandably, his opponents tried to question his viability based upon age.
Reagan knew it was a potential weakness but was well prepared.
In a TV debate, he addressed the inevitable question head-on, stating, ““I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” He following this on his own terms with the brilliant and self-deprecating line, which became his hallmark, “Just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all 13 states.”
By using humour in this way, “The Great Communicator” had totally neutralised the issue of his age, outflanking his opponents in the process.
Compare this with the experience of Iain Duncan Smith. Not noted for his outgoing personality, Duncan Smith, as leader of the Conservative Party, entered an election campaign labelling himself ‘the Quiet Man”. While thoughtfulness, consideration and introspection are often admirable qualities, they do not conjure up the image of a dynamic leader. Duncan Smith, despite certain qualities, never recovered.
Perhaps we could do with a little more well-judged humour in politics, rather than being in the usual position of listening to politicians, shaking our heads and thinking, "You must be joking”, a different experience altogether.
For those of you considering applying for courses like PPE, Politics, History, Social Psychology, or even Classics, you may already have an interest in political oratory.
If you have not yet read the following articles, you might find that they give you a good starting point for further reading:
Dr Christopher Reid: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/096394700000900202
Dr Bernard McKenna, Dr Neal Waddell: https://benjamins.com/#catalog/journals/jlp.6.3.06mck/details