Paul Greenberg

It seems former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter has undertaken a second career as a stand-up comic. He's now switching occupations the way he once switched political parties.

At 81, the longtime Republican then Democratic senator from Pennsylvania opened the other night at the well-named Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia. What better moniker for a club that hosts old pols full of hot air?

But what's this about a second career for Arlen Specter? Hasn't he always been something of a comic figure? Though not a very entertaining one.

Talk about a headliner, none of the distinguished politicians who try to be funny can rival deadpan Bob Dole just off the cuff. As in his classic line on seeing three former presidents -- Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon -- at some White House reception or other. "There they are," he noted, "See no evil, hear no evil, and ... evil."

The man just couldn't help himself when presented with an opportunity to tell more of the truth than slicker pols thought prudent. When the Republicans swept into control of the U.S. Senate one year, he mused, "If we had known we were going to win control of the Senate, we'd have run better candidates."

If only more of our current leaders would level with us that way. We'd not only be better informed but better entertained. Whenever our current president delivers one of his little -- very little -- witticisms, you can almost see the ghostwriters' fingerprints on it.

Bob Dole with his crippled arm and bitter smile was entirely too whole, too sane, ever to be elected president of the United States. He has a sense of humor, especially about himself. Maybe humor, like the best cheese, needs age to ripen to its full flavor.

Humor is the test of gravity. No one devoid of a sense of humor can be trusted with serious matters. There is such a thing as a politician's being so serious it's hard to take him seriously. Which brings me to the odd man out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination: Ron Paul.

The other day two of his rivals -- Rick Perry and Mitt Romney -- took Dr. Paul to task for dismissing the threat of Iran's fast developing nuclear weapon. Yet the good doctor's reaction, or rather lack of one, to the prospect of Iran's mullahs with a nuke of their own shouldn't have shocked. Or even surprised. On the contrary, it was wholly predictable.

For the man is the walking, talking embodiment of America's isolationist psyche. Not to mention his being a money crank. It all goes together. Full of obsessions, he's devoid of humor.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.