THE LAUGHING CAVALIER
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 27 March 2009
Frans Hals (1580-1666), the incredibly gifted Dutch master, painted “The Laughing Cavalier” in 1624. He could not have possibly imagined that 385 years later I’d write a commentary referencing his wonderful painting discussing the president of a country that would not be invented for more than 150 years after he unveiled his masterpiece to the public. Oh, the beauty of man’s ability to bind time. “The Laughing Cavalier” is a dandy and pride of the Wallace Collection in London, England. So if ever in the old country it’s worth the effort to see—the loose, bravado brushwork is stunning and took painting to a new level. But today’s comment is not about the Hals portrait. Today, a word or two about “The Laughing Cavalier” residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughing_Cavalier
President Obama has taken a beating recently for ‘yukking it up’ while hobnobbing with Jay Leno on NBC’s “Tonight Show” and during a “60 Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft that CBS aired last Sunday evening. His self-deprecating crack to Leno likening his bowling skills to Special Olympians, while cavalierly laughing, did not win him any points with many in the country. Though apologetic for his thoughtless, tasteless remark, the damage is done. An American President making light of a special segment of his citizenry, in any context, just does not sit well. After all he is the President of all. And his ill-timed laughter with Kroft while addressing our abysmal economy was likewise puzzling to many. Chuckling during a discussion about the hardships facing a far greater portion of the citizenry does not come across as being in tune with the nation’s suffering not to mention looking far from “presidential.” The folks, even his supporters, are wondering where his true sentiments lie. Stay tuned for “The Laughing Cavalier’s” miscues on ABC, MSNBC, CNN, ESPN, and HGTV. He’ll most likely give FOX News a pass.
Right or wrong, the public is getting the impression our President is “The Laughing Cavalier” and not taking the economic crisis facing America seriously. Just maybe he and his handlers are beginning to get the message. During Tuesday evening’s address to the nation, while reading from a giant monitor (no Teleprompter this time), the President stowed the laughter shtick in favor of a more “presidential” demeanor. His canned speech, void of emotion, had all the pizzazz a machine spewing 0’s and 1’s could deliver. Apparently his scripter’s neglected to insert smiley face emoticons to cue inappropriate laughter—there were no light moments. Within hours of his oration and the dull Q&A period of nothing new, the critics tabbed our “Laughing Cavalier,” Bore-ak Obama. Will the real Barak Obama please stand up?
Obama promised and promised and promised while running for office. But should we be surprised by his so-so performance to date? Our “Laughing Cavalier’s” Cheshire cat grin and hearty laughter make perfect sense to me. Frankly, I find it incredible he’s done such a good job of containing himself. Good grief, come on—the guy won the lottery. He’s the President of the United States of America. An unqualified, junior Senator knocked off a string of pesky unqualified wanna-be challengers that had no real chance and then he summarily dismissed the corrupt and powerful Clintonista regime. No easy task to be sure. But he did it and did it with an unprecedented campaign of form over substance. With clever sound bites, smoke, mirrors, and a 70’s disco ball spinning to “Car Wash” he closed the sale. He didn’t need the period fro, powder blue polyester leisure suit, white patent leather loafers, and assorted bling. So why should he not be laughing—at the lunacy of it all. Only in America could something so remarkable yet ridiculous happen.
During recent television interviews it’s obvious the President is, for all intents and purposes, dumbfounded—maybe star-struck is a better word—by the trappings—Air Force One complete with monogrammed ‘flight jacket,’ helicopters, family quarters in the White House, deluxe designer swing sets on the White House lawn, etc.—of the presidency. As he says over and over, “It’s pretty cool.” In fact, you could say, at times, he’s downright giddy. Can you blame him? I’d be laughing too. Actually I’d be howling. But he’d be better served being a bit more discreet with his glee and certainly not when sitting before microphones or cameras talking the nation’s business.
Speaking of sitting, I have painted many portraits during the past 40 years or so. If painting Obama at this point during his presidency there is no question I’d turn to the Hals’ pose of “The Laughing Cavalier” for inspiration. The pose is appropriate and the play on words—“The Laughing Cavalier”—most fitting. Wouldn’t Hals be flattered—if not impressed?
There’s plenty of evidence that laughter is good medicine. It’s good to laugh—it’s healthy for the individual and for the group; of any size. Laughter relieves pressure and can instantly inject levity. But in the political arena, especially during dire times while tackling and discussing serious issues of national and international consequence, the President must present an appropriate demeanor. At least learn to fake it. Likewise there is a time to laugh and act cavalier. To date his timing has been poor—at best. President Obama is still well under a hundred days into his presidency and enjoying favorable opinion in the polls. However, Americans are an impatient people. If our “Laughing Cavalier” does not convince the country he is serious and up to the task of restoring order to the economy and leading America the laughs will be on him—and they will not be cavalier. The laughs will come from feeding hyenas; right now they’re only circling.