If David Letterman used crude anti-black stereotypes to make fun of Barack Obama, or crude misogynist stereotypes to make fun of Hillary Clinton — “Barack Obama looks like a guy who just figured out a sure-fire way to steal a watermelon,” or “Hillary Clinton looks like a nun who’s about to rap your knuckles with a ruler” — he’d be taking either a short involuntary vacation or early retirement.
So why is it OK for Letterman to use use old-man stereotypes — “John McCain looks like the kind of guy whose new denture adhesive allows him to eat corn on the cob” — to make fun of McCain ?
Yes, it’s important to be able to laugh about serious things, and yes, I find old-man jokes pretty funny, although — or perhaps because — I’m rapidly becoming one. But then, I have tenure. If I’d just been laid off and had to look for work, maybe I wouldn’t find the stereotypes so funny.
Thinking about the politics of it, the last thing Obama needs is stirring up resentment among the elderly. I hope the campaign against McCain is relentless. But it doesn’t have to be mean-spirited.
Update In response to reader emails:
Yes, there may be a genuine issue about McCain’s mental acuity, as there was about Reagan’s. All the better reason not to confuse it with generic “old guy” jokes.