I’ve never cried over spilled milk.
But I did cry over the joke Barack Obama tried to tell about it Tuesday night.
The rest of the speech consisted of the president talking about energy, about how everything the Republicans said that he wasn’t doing, he had in fact done — in spades, or in lockstep with Israel, as the case might be — and about Osama bin Laden. Do you remember when we got Osama? President Obama does.
And in case we’d forgotten, he had this whole speech to remind us.
“Remember?” Obama asked. “I was in the situation room, and Hillary Clinton was there, and so was Secretary Gates, and I was there with them, and we got Osama, and it was great! Everything will be like this if you reelect me!”
“Often, I come to Congress with vague ideas about legislation that should happen. And sometimes this goes well. And sometimes it doesn’t. But maybe that’s because we aren’t thinking about it the right way. Don’t think of it as passing a bill. Think of it as getting Osama. Sound good? I have a lot of Osamas I would like you to get this session, but if you don’t get all of them, it is cool, because I will blame you for the gridlock and tell the American people that this is what happens when you elect to office people who did not kill Osama bin Laden. I, by the way, killed Osama bin Laden.”
I thought that any non-Osama subject would come as a positive relief.
But then President Obama made the milk joke.
It ran as follows: “We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill — because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.”
This was followed by a muffled lowing sound like many cows dying.
Slowly, painfully, it blossomed into applause.
Say what you will about Barack Obama, he can not tell a joke to save his life.
Frankly, this was the least funny milk-related thing since “Milk.” And Sean Penn died in that.
“I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk”? This was a Mitt Romney-level joke. If I had told this on a camping trip in middle school, everyone would have glowered at me and refused to let me under the tent flap when the rain began. It was the sort of joke that comes with the economics textbook after the explanation of cost curves.
Even Michelle only somewhat managed a smile.
A milk joke? Who’s he trying to appeal to, the one percent? The two percent?
But if there is one crowd incapable of detecting the difference between a good joke and a bad one, it’s Congress. They nearly passed SOPA.
So they laughed. And Obama grinned, as though he didn’t sense that the only appropriate response after delivering a joke like that was to send apology letters to everyone affected, similar to what Donald Trump’s mother’s doctor must have done.
Call me lactose intolerant, if you like. I won’t say it was an udder disaster, or that he should steer clear of that sort of thing, or that he should have skimmed the speech before reading it if he didn’t want to be creamed at the polls. I cud, but I herd Dana already was, so I was cowed.
If President Obama had checked the label on that milk joke before delivering it, he would have noticed that it expired eight years ago, was a peculiar green, and had strange clumps floating around at the bottom.
But this was awful. I am a connoisseur of bad jokes, and that one was a fine merlot from an especially good vintage. (I don’t know about wines. Is that a good wine?) It was so bad that even Rick Santorum might not have insisted that it be kept on life support.
This is what happens when you don’t smell your milk jokes before you pour them down the audience’s throat.
Maybe all this was a commentary on the need to bring manufacturing back home. If this is the state of the union, the Union’s running pretty thin on material. Meanwhile, Hu Jintao is turning out finely crafted gems of wit that work on multiple levels, to modest applause.
The only thing that could be said in its favor was that it had nothing to do with Osama.
And he soon went back to that.