A Wisecracking Fool in King Obama’s Court

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Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest;
Leave thy drink and thy whore,
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have more
Than two tens to a score.

No, these aren’t the sage words of David Axelrod, spoken in confidence to President Obama before he hashed out the details of his 2012 budget proposal. Sharp and cryptic, the passage is the utterance of a fool to Lear, the tragic old man of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Traditionally, fools occupied a privileged and important place in a royal court. With well-honed humor, a king’s fool could entertain, advise, criticize, and even ridicule His Majesty without (much) fear of violent backlash. “Laughter was the oil a jester used to slip inconvenient truths into the royal presence without offending it,” writes Jake Page for Notre Dame Magazine. Page argues that the trusted, irreverent wisdom of fools would just as well temper the whims of a modern ruler–like, say, the American president.

Many will likely interject, “But Obama already has a fool . . . that chucklehead at his right hand . . . that Joe Biden fella.” Those same people may be surprised to hear that Biden already has an official title, something nitpickers call a “vice president.” What disqualifies Biden as the Oval Office Fool is his career, his stake in American politics; unlike the vice president, fools are intrinsically outsiders. “Many court jesters did come from the ranks of the physically disabled and many were dwarfs,” writes Page. “Some were ‘naturals,’ people who were what we would call mentally challenged.”

But perhaps Obama already does have his own fool. Could the half-baked ramblings of Kanye West or the penetrating satire of Stephen Colbert count as modern day foolery? Probably not, as neither the rapper nor the comedian have unrestricted access to Obama. Page speculates that Reggie Love, the president’s “bodyman,” fulfills many of the criteria of a contemporary court jester: Love entertains Obama with daily basketball practice, prevents him from enacting some poor decisions (Page recounts a story in which “Love thought that Obama had eaten enough brownies, he snatched the rest away from the president”), and works outside of the political machine.

Hosting an unofficial fool is a good first step for any president, but Page calls for something more drastic: a minor restructuring of our democracy. He suggests,

there be an official position in the executive branch: the Presidential Court Jester. To insulate this office holder from being excluded just when he or she is most needed, the office should perhaps be considered a separate, fourth branch of the government, with rights of attendance to all presidential affairs guaranteed.

As laughable as this proposition may sound–just like the trenchant wit of a fool–there is a dark seriousness to it.

Source: Notre Dame Magazine

Image by neiljs, licensed under Creative Commons.

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