When comedian Nick Offerman addressed the 2014 Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association dinner this weekend, he might have been wise to take a page from Stephen Colbert and gone in character as “Parks and Recreation” libertarian Ron Swanson. But even if some of his jokes were a little bit on the nose, Offerman did offer up a view of how Americans ought to conduct ourselves that feels awfully refreshing.
Offerman’s public persona and his most famous fictional persona have always married an exaggerated dignity to a healthy sense of self-parody. He suggested that his fellow Americans could benefit from a solid dose of the ridiculous and a reassessment of what it actually means to stand up for our ideals.
We get hysterical over our cable service, Offerman pointed out in a sharp riff on the impending merger between Comcast (which owns his employer, NBC) and Time Warner Cable, both of which land on the top of customer-dissatisfaction surveys.
“GM basically just murdered a bunch of people, and they’re not even in the top 10,” he riffed to the audience. “You could start an entire company whose business model is to set dogs on fire, and then their owners have to pay to put them out, and they still wouldn’t be as hated as Time Warner Cable.”
And we have a strange sense of how to exercise our constitutional rights. “The Second Amendment is not there to protect our right to intimidate the teenage cashier at Chipotle,” Offerman said, referring to Georgia gun legislation that makes it legal to openly carry firearms in a wide array of places, though not in lawmakers’ offices.
The solution? Offerman suggested that a sense of accountability and proportion would serve us all well. It is more admirable, he suggested, to try to solve problems and address our fears with words than to try to ward them off by brandishing guns. And if we say something foolish, we ought to take responsibility for it.
“Just because the government can’t punish you for saying something stupid doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t,” Offerman warned. “And we will. We, as a country, enjoy punishing people for saying stupid things. That, fireworks, and the missionary position are basically the three most American things I can think of.”
The point being, a little bit of silliness is inherent in our sense of what it means to be American, and our priorities change. The Third Amendment is still, as Offerman put it, “a good amendment,” even if there is little risk today that we will be forced to quarter soldiers in our homes. The best approach to our present-day problems and our Constitution just might be a little confidence, clarity and willingness to lead with a firm handshake rather than a weapon or an insult as our first option. And maybe we can all agree that bad cable customer service is a common enemy.