A favorite joke about the Obama administration, that is, about President Obama’s penchant for running the government out of his Blackberry rather than through his cabinet, used to go as follows: Quick, who’s the National Security Advisor?
The National Security Advisorwho as everyone now knows is General James Joneshas ruined a perfectly good joke, and the bitter irony of it is that he did so by attempting to tell a joke of his own, thus making a public scandal of himself, and revealing his name to millions who previously had not the remotest inkling that he existed.
Speaking last week before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, General Jones was videotaped in the act of attempted humor. According to Ha’Aretz , this is more or less what he had to say:
A Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water.
The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn’t have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban begins to curse and yell at the Jewish storeowner. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea: Beyond the hill, there is a restaurant; they can sell you water.
The Taliban keeps cursing and finally leaves toward the hill. An hour later he’s back at the tie store. He walks in and tells the merchant: “Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.”
Telling a joke about greedy, sneaky Jewish businessmen before a Jewish audience raised some eyebrows. “Can you imagine him telling a black joke at an event of African Americans?, said one attendee, adding that it was wrong on so many levels. Three of those levels are:
1) It is not a Jewish joke; tricky-merchant jokes are told about Greeks, Armenians, Arab Christian minorities and other Levantine survivors; and
2) It is not funny to begin with; and
3) It was especially not funny the way that Gen. Jones told it.
By attempting to tell a generic Levantine joke that was never funny to begin with, Gen. Jones betrayed a blindered view of what is happening in the Middle East: Every side, he implied, simply is engaged in sneaky maneuvering for position, and the way to solve the problem is to split everything down the middle. He can’t tell a Jew from an Arab (or a Greek or an Armenian, if the Muslims hadn’t killed or exiled the millions of them that used to live in the Middle East).
A better joke expresses the differences in character between the contending parties: A scorpion sitting on the East Bank of the Jordan River asks a frog to carry him across. What if you sting me?, the frog demurs. Why would I do that?,” counters the scorpion. Then we’d both drown.
The frog is persuaded and takes the scorpion on his back. Midway across the river the scorpion stings the frog. Why did you do that? Now we’ll both die!, protests the frog. This is the Middle East, the scorpion replies. Other punch lines come to mind, e.g., You love life and we love death.