The laughs we missed: If only Jay Leno and 'SNL' had been there for Nixon, Hoover, and Lincoln

News item:

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made fun of herself Thursday, telling "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno she almost didn't make it to his studio.

"It is so great to be here, I was so worried I wasn't going to make it. I was pinned down by sniper fire," Clinton said after joining him onstage, referring to her claims - since disputed - that she dodged sniper bullets while arriving in Bosnia as first lady. Clinton later said she had "misspoke."


See, now don't you feel silly and a bit embarrassed for thinking it was a serious matter when a leading presidential candidate lied in a prepared, televised speech on one of the key issues in the race: Foreign policy experience.

Sucker -- you probably believed the pundits back in '01 when they said "the age of irony is over," didn't you? Because apparently there's no campaign flaw too deep -- or no "misstatement" too great -- that it can't be made to disappear, just by going on "Saturday Night Live" or Leno and making a joke about it.

If only past presidents and candidates had learned this trick that Hillary Clinton has mastered, just imagine how the course of American history might have changed.

From May 1974:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Embattled president Richard M. Nixon seems to have finally put the worst of the Watergate scandal behind him after his highly-rated appearance with late-night funnyman Johnny Carson in which he and the host of NBC's "Tonight Show" traded quips about the 18-minute gap in the White House tapes, H.R. Haldeman's crew-cut, and the secret bombing of Cambodia.

The biggest yuks came when Carson leaned over and said, "With all due respect, Mr. President, what's really on that tape that your secretary accidentally erased?"

Replied Nixon: "I can finally tell the nation that....", and he continued to move his lips for about 45 seconds without uttering a sound, as the audience roared its approval.

Asked by Carson why he agreed to go on the late-night comedy show, Nixon replied: "Because you are completely nuts -- and we ought to know, because we just burglarized your psychiatrist's office!"


From Sept. 1931:

PITTSBURGH (UPI): President Herbert Hoover cheered up a Depression-weary nation Wednesday night with a surprise cameo appearance on the J. "Muggs" Lennow "Laff Hour" on radio station KDKA, where he made light of the GOP's famous, failed promise to "put a chicken in every pot and a car in every backyard."

"Did we really say that?" Hoover laughed. "We meant we were going to put pot in every chicken!" -- an apparent allusion to the newly popular form of music known as "jazz."

"I hate to run, but my presidential limo is parked out on Prosperity -- just around the corner," the president joked. "Brother, can you spare a dime...for the meter."

Pundits expect that -- despite the sluggish economy -- the likability factor should easily propel Hoover to a second term over likely Democratic nominee Franklin Roosevelt, the New York governor who has tended to bore audiences with his long-winded policy prescriptions for building lots of dams and giving money to old people.


From June 1863:

LAUGH OFFENSIVE President calms nation weary of civil war with good humour

From our Washington correspondent -- President Abraham Lincoln made a most surprising appearance at the Ford Theater last night, where he interrupted a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to make remarks of great humour and wit about the recent battlefield carnage and other affairs of state.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand...and neither can General Grant, if you've ever tried to meet with him any time after 11 a.m.," said Lincoln, much to the merriment of the assembly. When another joke fell flat on its face, the 16th president quipped: "Hey, I can suspend your writ of habeas corpus, too!"


But seriously, folks, I'm wondering how Americans ever elected a president before "SNL" arrived to put it all in the proper perspective for us.