I received a raft of Irish jokes on St. Patrick's Day. Let's deconstruct one of them:
Two Irishmen are sitting in a pub having beer and watching the brothel across the street. They saw a Baptist minister walk into the brothel, and one of them says, "Aye, 'tis a shame to see a man of the cloth goin' bad." Then they see a rabbi enter the brothel, and the other Irishman says, "Aye, 'tis a shame to see that the Jews are fallin' victim to temptation." Then they see a Catholic priest enter the brothel, and one of the Irishmen says, "What a terrible pity ... one of them girls must be quite ill."
The point of the joke is that we often assign the worst motives and behaviors to groups and individuals who we perceive as somehow different than we are, and blithely believe that the same behaviors and motives among "us" are noble and right-minded. What makes it funny is the wry self-awareness of the joke teller.
Self-awareness seems like a scarce resource these days, and it is particularly scarce when we talk politics. It ought to be easy for us to agree that Bill Clinton is slipperier than an eel in a barrel of snot, and that George W. Bush is, bless his heart, dumber than a shovel. But it isn't, contrary to the vast evidence in support of both charges. For ideologues, facts are only facts when they are weapons--and in lieu of a fact, a weapon alone will suffice.
A mutual starting point is to agree that it is possible for C- students to be good presidents, and that all our presidents have been slippery, but better at hiding it than was Slick Willie. If we are self-aware enough, we know that a sense of humor helps ameliorate the impossibility of human perfection--and that having one helps us get though the night.
Two Democrats are sitting in a pub having beer and watching a lobbyist's office across the street. They saw Mike Huckabee walk into the office, and one of them says,...