Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri gets plenty of space to be dead-serious at the bottom of the Saturday op-ed page. Her piece is titled "Herman Cain: The joke's on us." For a metaphor, she summoned the most laughably bad contestants on American Idol.
"I know a joke candidate when I see one. He's the Sanjaya of the circuit," Petri wrote. "He wouldn't be Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He'd be William Hung Goes to Hollywood."
Petri claims she knows joke candidates from her own student council days:
The joke candidate has three distinguishing features: congeniality, a fundamentally incoherent but catchy Big Idea and a dogged refusal to admit that you are joking. The last is the most critical.
You make people laugh at debates and candidate forums. With your equal time, you unleash a few reliable punch lines, and everyone looks forward to hearing you restate the Moderately Terrible Plan you have concocted. The form of what you say is standard. The content is sublimely ridiculous. But forget fact-checking. You can't kill a cartoon platform plank any more than you can kill a cartoon character. That’s a mole that just won’t stay whacked.
Another hallmark of the joke candidacy is terrible ads, ads that no one in his, her, or its right mind would think were remotely effective. Have you seen Cain’s ads?
In his most recent ad, his mustachioed campaign manager explains that he supports Herman Cain. Then he blows smoke into the camera. Then Herman Cain smiles slowly and creepily and the ad is over. This is the sort of thing you expect to see late at night on Cartoon Network. Rick Perry’s not ready for prime time? Herman Cain’s not ready for afternoon cable.
Yet right now, he’s winning. Technically.
This is by far the best joke campaign since, well, maybe ever. I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off.
But I am beginning to fear that it's gotten out of hand.
He’s doing the political equivalent of shooting the moon, playing a ridiculous, extravagant hand in the hopes that no one will notice or call his bluff.
When Cain was still behind, seventh or eighth out of nine, it was fine that he was a joke. He was the guy at the side pulpit offering levity.
Now he’s the “front-runner”?
Even Jennifer Rubin suggests that Cain is a practical joke.
Everyone likes the joke candidate.
"I would bring a sense of humor to the white house," Herman Cain said at that debate. That’s the truth.
Should she really write "Even Jennifer Rubin" objects to Cain? From her blog, Rubin is known as the Post's unofficial Romney for President campaign.