Two Wongs Don't Make a Right

Two Wongs Don't Make a Right

By Tom Bevan - August 27, 2014

Racial strife in Missouri. The beheading of an American in the Middle East. Everywhere you look it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams. America’s in a funk. We could some good news -- and a good laugh. But right when we could use it most, we seem to have lost our collective sense of humor.

Take this tweet on Sunday afternoon by the British Embassy, for instance.

Look, I get it. Humor is subjective, and not everyone is going to find every joke funny. But, as with most things in life, intent matters. It’s not like this tweet came from ISIS. The Brits are our longest standing and closest ally in the world. If we can’t take a little good-natured ribbing from them about an event that happened 200 years ago, then we’ve become too uptight for our own good.

Incidentally, here’s President Obama cracking wise about the same subject in March 2012, at a ceremony welcoming British Prime Minister David Cameron to the White House.

That is funny stuff, people, and we were right to laugh about it then. So why can’t we laugh about it now?

Let’s take another, albeit more complicated, example. Last week Harry Reid found himself in hot water after being caught on tape making a couple of Asian-themed jokes while speaking to the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce.

“I don’t think you’re smarter than anybody else, but you’ve convinced a lot of us you are,” the Senate majority leader said.

Later at the same event, Reid quipped that he had a problem “keeping my Wongs straight.”

Reid’s attempt at humor may have been ill-advised and poorly delivered -- but that hardly makes him a bigot.

Reid has a gaffe-riddled history, and the people of Nevada keep electing him. But in American politics, it’s perfectly within the prerogative of Nevadans to be represented by someone who rides the short bus. (That’s a joke, people).

Let’s also stipulate that, as a full-throated partisan with a well-documented mean streak, Harry Reid might be one of the first to shout “bigotry” and call for the resignation of any Republican who uttered similarly ill-fated jokes under the same circumstances.

But two Wongs do not make a right. Just because Reid and his fellow travelers on the left have made racial mau-mauing a staple of today’s political landscape, that doesn’t mean he should be castigated for a joke that fell flat.

Our suffocating political correctness and hypersensitivity to all manner of perceived offenses are among the most tiresome features of modern American culture. We all profess to want to get along in perfect harmony, but these days any joke or quip that is even remotely controversial will get you shipped off to (Chinese style) reeducation camp.

Which is why both the British Embassy and Harry Reid buckled under pressure and immediately issued formal apologies. For trying to be funny.

Our ability to find offense when we should be laughing was set against the backdrop of the tragic death of one of America’s greatest -- and least constrained -- comedians. Robin Williams was, to quote Billy Crystal’s touching eulogy at The Emmy’s on Monday night, “the brightest star in the comedy galaxy” for nearly four decades. Yet even as we’ve all laughed out loud over the past weeks reliving many of Williams’ funniest moments on YouTube, there’s a sadness behind it all knowing he won’t be around to tickle our funny bone in the future.

We all know the saying that laughter is the best medicine. That’s true not just for individuals, but for nations as well. So loosen up, America. There are enough truly horrifying things going on around the world to worry about, so let’s not get our knickers in a knot about a few harmless, good-natured jokes. 

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email:, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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