Some topics are a little too touchy for even the most taboo-flaunting, back-slapping stand-up comedy routines. President Obama's jokes killed at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday. But his administration's highly controversial Predator Drone program does a much less humorous kind of killing.
Operating for years in Afghanistan and Pakistan as an officially secret counterterrorism program, the drones have drawn controversy for their notoriously high civilian casualty rate, the anti-American rage they provoke in the region, and for the dubious constitutionality of assassinating foreign nationals. So when Obama incorporated a Predator Drone joke into his Correspondents Dinner routine, it raised some eyebrows:
"The Jonas Brothers are here; they're out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But boys, don't get any ideas. I have two words for you, 'predator drones.' You will never see it coming. You think I'm joking."
- Inappropriate On Every Level Salon's Alex Pareene retells the joke. "It's funny because predator drone strikes in Pakistan have killed literally hundreds of completely innocent civilians, and now the president is evincing a casual disregard for those lives he is responsible for ending by making a lighthearted joke about killing famous young celebrities for the crime of attempting to sleep with his young daughters. (Really, everything about the joke is inappropriate. That's why you shouldn't analyze humor too much.)"
- Undermining His Own Agenda The American Prospect's Adam Serwer explains it's no laughing matter:
The Obama administration has spent a great deal of time on outreach to Muslims worldwide, and on dialing down the volume and rhetoric of the prior administration in order to defuse al-Qaeda's narrative of a clash of civilizations between Muslims and non-Muslims. So you have to wonder why in the world the president's speech writers would think it was a good idea to throw a joke about predator drones into the president's speech during the White House Correspondent's Dinner, given that an estimated one-third of drone casualties, or between 289 and 378, have been civilians. It evinces a callous disregard for human life that is really inappropriate for a world leader, especially a president who is waging war against an enemy that deliberately targets civilians. It also helps undermine that outreach by making it look insincere. It's already hard enough to convince Muslims that the U.S. isn't indifferent to civilian casualties without having the president joke about it.
- What If Bush Had Made That Joke? Conservative Blogger William Teach poses the hypothetical, "just imagine Bush telling THAT joke and what the media would be printing the following day."
- ...Well, He Kinda Did Salon's Glenn Greenwald compares Obama's drones joke to President George W. Bush's highly controversial 2004 White House Correspondents Dinner jokes about looking for the weapons of mass destruction that his administration had falsely claimed as justification for invading Iraq. Greenwald writes, "What was funnier: Bush's WMD joke or Obama's Predator drone joke? I wonder how these people would vote: http://is.gd/bSgyA"
- Why Obama Should Drone Strike The Jonas Brothers Salon's Alex Pareene writes, "It seems like a no-brainer that the people directly responsible for tragedies should not deliver jokes about those tragedies. That's why Mel Brooks can tell Hitler jokes and Germans can't." However, "The concept of the president personally ordering the assassination of the Jonas Brothers is, you have to admit, kind of funny. Such a terrible act would also neatly drive home the problem with drone strikes and the Presidential Assassination Program in a way that Americans and the popular press would really grasp."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.