If you click here, you can read a short story about Dr. Ruth Westheimer and listen to an interview with her. Now you are probably wondering why we are posting a link to an interview with a sex therapist on a blog about Democratic politics and political issues? Well, in the interview, she tells the interviewer that she credits a lot of her success to an old Yiddish saying that "a lesson taught with humor is an lesson remembered." We think that is good advice for Democratic politicians.
It is easy for politicians to be serious and these are very serious times, but Dr. Ruth's advice is sound. If you can work humor into your presentation, into your message, there is a better chance that your audience will remember it and pass it on. Think about it, are you more likely to tell a friend or a family member about a speech with statistics or a speech with some humor in it?
Of course, being humorous is not easy. It is very hard work. Anyone who has ever told a joke at the beginning of a speech only to have it fall flat can tell you how hard it is. Yet, humor is more effective at turning aside attacks or countering your opponents than anger.
One of the more effective uses of humor during a political debate was when Ronald Reagan said in one of the debates with Walter Mondale in 1984 that he wouldn't hold his opponent's age against him. It was a good line because it dealt with an issue that the Reagan people were worried about and that was the fact that Reagan was old and might cause Americans to wonder if he was sharp enough for the job. Reagan's joke was both a way of acknowledging the issue and then dealing with it.
More recently, just this past month, John Edwards had to deal with the media obsession with his $400 haircut. One way he is doing that is working it into his standard speech. He does this by saying things like he wants an America where every child can dream of growing up and getting $400 haircuts. It gets his audience laughing and is much more effective than whining about how unfair it is that the media is making a big deal over the haircut.
So when you are crafting a political message, take Dr. Ruth's advice and use humor to make your point. If it works for a sex therapist, it should work for a politicians.