Those of us who remember the Cold War also remember the Cold War joke. Many of these were jokes that had actually originated within the Soviet Union itself, as Russian citizens used mordant humor to deal with communist life. When I was growing up, those jokes had a great deal to do with my understanding of the day-to-day realities of life in a Communist state, both in terms of the oppression and the deprivation. Here’s a joke that illustrates both:
A man was somehow able to finagle visas to get his family out of the Soviet Union, but he was forced to remain behind. He promised to write his family regularly to let them know how he was doing. Because the family knew that the KGB would be monitoring everything the man wrote, they agreed upon a code: If the man wrote his letter in black ink, he was telling the truth; if he wrote his letter in red ink, he was telling a lie. Not long after the family settled in their new home, they received a letter from the man written entirely in black ink:
My dearest family,
How foolish you were to leave our beloved Soviet Union. Although you may remember a brief period of shortages, I can tell you that life now has gotten better in every way. The stores are overflowing with food and merchandise. At the green grocer, there are fruits and vegetables from all corners of our glorious Soviet Union. In the clothing stores, the clothes available for purchase are packed so tightly on the rack that one needs to use excessive strength to pull out a shirt just to try it on. Even though it is January, our dear little apartment is oppressively hot. I must repeatedly tell the manager to turn the heat down. Indeed, peculiarly enough, in the midst of all the plenty flowing from Stalin’s great Five Year Plan, the stores are short only one item: red ink.
Other jokes spoke about deprivation and the pervasive, state-sponsored antisemitism:
On a bitterly cold day in Moscow, word has gone out that a store has received a shipment of food supplies. People start lining up early. Soon, the line doubles around the block. After a couple of hours, an official emerges from the store.
“Owing to the Zionist-dominated American interference with Soviet concerns, supplies are slightly more limited than we had originally anticipated. All Jews must therefore leave this line.”
Grumbling, but unsurprised, the Jews head home empty-handed.
The sun rises in the sky, but gives no warmth. Another couple of hours go by, and the same official comes out.
“The Americans were worse than we thought, and our supplies are more diminished than we realized. All of those who do not belong to the Communist Party must leave this line.”
Disgruntled non-Party members head home, leaving only the hard-core Soviets waiting for food.
The sun begins to set. The cold becomes worse. The Party members huddle together, trying to get warm. At long last, after they’ve spent eight or ten hours waiting, the official emerges from the store one last time.
“We regret to announce that American depredations were so great that we have no food supplies available today. You must all go home.”
As the Party members shuffle away into the cold night, one loudly says to the other, “Those damn Jews! They get all the luck.”
(Incidentally, I published this joke in connection with a Maxine Waters comment, which reminds us that antisemitism is becoming pretty pervasive in today’s Democrat Party.)
For me, Obamacare is a rich area for Soviet jokes. We’re being ordered to buy a product that we don’t want; that is described as being overwhelmingly full of delights, even though we don’t care about those delights; and that is, in any event, unavailable. It’s a Soviet-style economic policy that is fully deserving of Soviet-style jokes. To date, I’ve fallen back on one of my old favorites:
First Communist: Come the revolution, we’ll all be driving Rolls Royces.
Second Communist: But I don’t want to drive a Rolls Royce.
First Communist: Come the revolution, you’ll have to.
What fascinated me was discovering that I’m not the only one dredging up the Cold War past in connection with Obamacare. Megan McArdle, an admirably level-headed, honest writer whose background as a programmer has given her solid insights into the Obamacare debacle, has felt the same impulse:
Left-leaning columnists and policy wonks have been suggesting that the cancellation letters were part of an insurance company scam to enroll their customers in expensive policies, but the administration itself has been remarkably oblique. It needs the insurers, especially with the exchanges in so much trouble. Their cooperation is essential to avoiding another round of nasty premium shocks next year.
It reminds me of a late-Soviet joke: A man stands in line all day for bread, only to have the baker come out and say there is none. He loses it, and begins ranting about the government. Eventually, a man in a trench coat puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Be careful, comrade. You know, in the old days, it would have been …” and he mimes a gun pointed at the head.
The man walks home, dejected. When he walks in the door, his wife takes one look at his face and drops the plate she is holding.
“What’s wrong, Ivan? Were they out of bread?”
“It’s worse than that. They’re out of bullets.”
The administration has run out of political bullets. Unless the Affordable Care Act starts working, and delivering big benefits to more people than are losing their insurance, it can’t do much to improve those sagging poll numbers.
I’m wondering now if we’re going to see a general resurgence of Soviet jokes. They’re pretty much pre-made for the communist style economy Obama has thrust upon us. So I have a twofold request for you: First, do you remember any old Soviet-era jokes (and they have to be the genuine article) that work just as well now, in America, as they did during the Cold War in the Soviet Union? Second, if you find other writers falling back on old Communist jokes in connection with Obamacare specifically or the Obama economy generally, could you let me know?