Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Laughing Man

Per Wikipedia, Garry Wills (born 1934) is "a prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist, and historian." He's written some 40 books and is a frequent reviewer for the New York Review of Books. He's a veritable Renaissance Man and one of my favorite writers.

And yet, even Wills is reduced to analyzing the latest shiny object in front of the political press: Mitt Romney's laugh. In his latest piece for NYR ("Why is this man laughing?"), Wills writes:
"Everyone has noticed by now the non-laugh laugh of Mitt Romney, a kind of half-stifled barking. But what does it mean? It is blurted out as abruptly as it is broken off. Is it a kind of punctuation, part comma, part full stop, part interrogatory mark? What, if anything, is it trying to convey? Why does it seem more like coughing or burping than laughter?"
Wills speculates that Romney might be a living example of Dostoyevsky’s “Idiot.” Fine. Except we all know that Romney's cackle is utterly meaningless. It is not a window into his soul -- no matter how much pundits want it to be. What's worse, few (if any) normally smart observers seem aware that they're spinning nonsense. See Andrew Sullivan here and Paul Walden here. Like more than a few politicians, Romney is oddly awkward on the public stage. The laugh-like sound he emits in response to humor is a reflection of this maladroitness. Period. Wills' piece is still worth reading (he makes an intriguing point or two) given his erudition. But the endless discourse about Romney's jocosity speaks volumes about the current state of political journalism. You might say it's laughable.

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