Can Conservatives Be Funny?

Josh Green reviews A Conservative Walks Into a Bar: The Politics of Political Humor, Alison Dagnes' exploration of why conservatives and comedy don't often mix:

Dagnes concludes that conservatism is philosophically incompatible with satire. "The nature of conservatism does not meet the conditions necessary for political satire to flourish: conservatism is harmonized and slow to criticize people in power, and it originates from a place that repudiates humor because it is absolute."

Green, one of the early editors of the Onion, adds:

To me, the conservative inclination to put politics before humor goes a long way toward explaining [the lack of conservative late-night television shows]. It’s one reason why talk radio has been such a successful format for conservative entertainers (and such a challenging one for liberals, who have failed in their attempts to match it). You can’t cultivate a national television audience for a comedy show if being funny isn’t the first order of business.

In my book, anyone who puts politics and ideology before life and humor is ipso facto not a conservative. Conservatism is about the limits not just of government but of politics. And real conservatives find life funny – and enjoy it – because reality is always making fools of us. We misjudge, we misread, we are the victims of our own desires and the architects of our own failures. In "On Being Conservative," the model essay on the conservative temperament, Michael Oakeshott wrote what I regard as the most sublime and eloquent definition. A sample:

To be conservative … is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one's own fortune, to live at the level of one's own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one's circumstances.

The current GOP, in its search for a Randian utopia, in its anger and fundamentalist mindset, has no time to laugh – at itself or anyone else. Laughing requires an ability not to care so much all the time, to acknowledge the limits of humanity rather than be obsessed with the inherent superiority of one country – and one party in one country – within it. I prefer laughing and friendship to politics and ideology. That's what makes me a conservative; and it's what makes it impossible for me to be a Republican in 2012.