What Barack Obama lacks is simple--and a lot more important than it might seem: a sense of humor.
Evident throughout his campaign for the Democratic nomination--can you recall a single Obama witticism?--this proved especially striking at his party's convention. In an acceptance speech of some 4,600 words, Obama provided not a single good laugh.
True, you could have argued that so far he hadn't needed much of a sense of humor. Hillary Clinton hadn't had them rolling in the aisles herself. That changed the following week, when the Republicans held their own convention. In an acceptance speech of just 3,000 words, Sarah Palin provided no fewer than six laughs--real belly laughs, each followed by thunderous applause--five of which came at Obama's expense.
Gov. Palin's performance undermined Sen. Obama in two ways. It made him appear prim and self-serious by comparison. And it thoroughly unnerved the man. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,'" Palin told the GOP convention, contrasting her work when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, with Obama's efforts on the south side of Chicago, "except that you have actual responsibilities." For several days afterward, Obama appeared dazed. "Community organizer," he kept insisting at campaign appearances, was so a real job. Even now, more than two weeks later, he has yet to employ humor effectively. Instead he has "sharpened his speeches," to quote the Associated Press, adding "bite." Obama can take a blow. What he can't take is a joke.
One week from today, Barack Obama will debate John McCain. While McCain may never have delivered remarks as devastatingly funny as Palin's acceptance speech, Obama might want to review McCain's remarks during the October 2007 debate among candidates in the Republican presidential primaries. Denouncing legislation that would have devoted federal funds to a museum commemorating the 1969 Woodstock festival, McCain prompted gales of laughter, then a standing ovation, by explaining why he had missed the festival: "I was tied up."
Seven days. Obama has seven days in which to learn the uses of humor.