The Assault of Laughter

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(From the Persuasion Power Point section in Volume 18, No. 21 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

In politics and economics, there are hundreds of different ways of responding to ideas and proposals you disagree with.

Humor is one powerful way. It dissolves tension. It changes the tone of the conversation. It’s fun. And many people love to share a good joke.

Mark Twain wrote, “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

H.L. Mencken wrote, “One horse laugh is worth 10,000 syllogisms.”

Both proved it in their writing. So did Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary. So does P.J. O’Rourke today.

Free-market pamphleteer Frederic Bastiat sometimes used humor to skewer bad economic ideas. Read his marvelous essays “The Candlemakers’ Petition” and “The Negative Railroad.” Hilarious — and more relevant today than when he wrote them.

Consider a famous example from politics.

In the 1984 Presidential campaign, a growing number of people believed that Ronald Reagan was too old for a second term.

During a televised debate with 56-year-old Walter Mondale, 73-year-old Ronald Reagan put the issue to rest with a quip:

“I want you to know that also 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.”

Even Mondale laughed.

Want to use humor against Big Government ideas?

1. Recognizing a good political joke — and sharing it – is easier than making one up. So when you hear or read a good joke or humorous remark about Big Government, write it down or otherwise save it. Email it to friends. Tell it to people in the office. Same with a funny quote or a libertarian online meme or video. If it’s good, some of them will in turn pass it on. If it’s great, it could go viral.

2. Read a collection of political wit and humor — and substitute your target for theirs. Great Political Wit by Robert Dole is a good place to start.

3. If you want to learn how to build a joke or write comedy, read New Comedy Writing Step-by-Step by Gene Perret. You’ll learn and laugh. I studied with Mr. Perret in the 1980s. He’s a master comedy writer. Or Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer and Mark Shatz. It’s very good.

In a world of self-important, know-it-all politicians and pundits, we need more humor. At their expense.

In a world where every issue is crucial, where every election is the most important ever, where our failure to elect this golden candidate could destroy Western civilization… we need laughter.

In a world of bloated big government balloons… you can be a pin.

in Liberator Online Archives by Michael Cloud Comments are off
About the author: Michael Cloud

Michael Cloud is President and Co-founder of the Center For Small Government. He also co-founded the Massachusetts End the Income Tax ballot initiatives with Carla Howell, serving as spokesperson, primary fund-raiser and Communications Director. In 2002, Cloud ran for US Senate against 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, winning 19% of the vote — the highest vote for a Libertarian US Senate candidate ever. He has been politically active since 1976 and has raised over $8 million for small government candidates, projects, and initiatives. He is also a speechwriter and the Master of libertarian communication. He writes the Persuasion Power Points column for over 70,000 readers of the Advocates for Self-Government Liberator Online and is author of the books Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion and Unlocking More Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion. Cloud is also the co-author of Small Government News, an email newsletter that is published approximately every two weeks; more often around elections.