Rubio, please don’t cave to the Swedes and the nitpickers. Your Sweden joke works!

Calm Down, Sweden. No One Thinks You Have a President. Not Even Marco Rubio.

Calm Down, Sweden. No One Thinks You Have a President. Not Even Marco Rubio.

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The Slatest
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Jan. 29 2016 12:17 PM

Calm Down, Sweden. No One Thinks You Have a President. Not Even Marco Rubio.

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Sweden.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Thursday night, Marco Rubio told a joke about Bernie Sanders:

Bernie Sanders is a socialist. I think Bernie Sanders is a good candidate for president … of Sweden.
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It’s not the most original line of attack on Sanders, or any lefty Democrat for that matter, but his comic timing worked and the line seemed to get laughs in the room. I chuckled!

But immediate afterward, many, many, many, many, many, many, many very informed people on Twitter chimed with some variation of “Sweden doesn’t have a president!”

Now, as Adam Taylor of the Washington Post writes, some Swedes also got grumpy about it, including Roger Lundgren, the editor of Kungliga magazine and a “leading commentator on Sweden’s royal family,” who offered up this gem: “The thing with Americans is that—I don’t want to use the word stupid, but I do. They are. They are so ignorant about the rest of the world. They think there are two monarchies in the world. And that’s the UK and Saudi Arabia."

Look people, there was certainly some foreign-policy ignorance on display in Thursday night’s debate, and I can’t definitively prove that Rubio knows that Sweden doesn’t have a president. But that joke in no way implies that he doesn’t. The line just works better that way! Yes, Rubio could have said, “instead of president of the United States, Bernie Sanders would be a great prime minister of Sweden.” But that’s awkward and no more “accurate” given that Sanders can’t be prime minister of Sweden because he is not Swedish. Rubio made his point. You all got what he meant.

According to a recent Politico article, Rubio has been trying out variations of this line on the campaign trail. He originally used Norway—which also doesn’t have a president—but said at a recent event that he switched to Sweden because he “got a little bit of heat from the Norwegians.” (Iowa actually has a decent-sized population of Norwegian descent.)

I also get that Scandinavians may bristle at American politicians’ habit of using their countries’ social welfare policies as a punch line, but when it comes to Sanders, who explains his self identification as a democratic socialist by saying “we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people,” it’s not that ridiculous. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and author of the forthcoming book, Invisible Countries.