Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Candidates Trade Jabs for Jokes at Al Smith Dinner

Note: Please upgrade your Flash plug-in to view our enhanced content.

By Dan Balz
NEW YORK -- The head table looked resplendent in white tie and tails, the audience dignified in black tie and gowns, and the candidates looked, well, like they were actually enjoying each other's company.

That was the scene Thursday night at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, one night after Barack Obama and John McCain squared off in debate on a stage at Hofstra University. They had come to participated in one of the most entertaining rituals of presidential politics, the Alfred E. Smith Foundation Memorial Dinner, and they did not disappoint.

Named for the four-term governor of New York and one-time Democratic presidential nominee, the dinner is a big-time fundraiser for Catholic Charities and, every four years, an opportunity for the major-party presidential nominees to take a few hours off from the combat and sniping of the campaign trail and poke fun at themselves and each other.

In a pair of 15-minute speeches, we learned that McCain has dumped his entire team of advisers (the power of Bill Kristol?) and replaced them all with "a man named Joe the Plumber." Joe may have had a bad day in the media on Thursday, but McCain said Joe is destined to become a very wealthy man, having signed "a very lucrative contract with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all seven of their houses."

Everyone in the house got it.

We also learned that Obama's first name is Swahili for "That One" (more from McCain on that in a moment). And that he got his middle name "from somebody who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president." Actually, he said, his middle name is Steve, not Hussein. Because self-deprecating humor is the order of the dinner, Obama assured the audience that he was not, as some might have believed, born in a manger. "I was actually born," he said, "on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the Planet Earth."

Obama and McCain sat on opposite sides of Cardinal Edward Egan, the archbishop of the New York Archdiocese, who got in a few licks of his own after they had finished, and, as one spoke, the other roared in laughter along with the audience.

McCain went first. He said Joe the Plumber was a necessary injection into a campaign that lacked the presence of the common man. "After all, it began so long ago with the heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as 'The One,'" he said. "Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him 'That One.' And he -- my friends, he doesn't mind at all. In fact, he even has a pet name for me: George Bush."

McCain said he relished his underdog status but sensed he was among friends. Even in a ballroom in Democratic Manhattan, he said, he felt there were some in the audience pulling for him to win. Then turning to the far end of the head table, he deadpanned, "I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary."

He joked that Bill Clinton had been "hammering away at me with epitaphs like American hero and great man," and that the former president's warm embrace of the Republican nominee recently was nothing less than "a brazen attempt to suppress turnout among anti-Clinton conservatives."

He joked too about how some in the press seem infatuated with Obama -- "It's going to be a long, long night at MSNBC if I manage to pull this thing off" -- and alluded to the fact that the souring economy had provided a political boost to his rival. "Senator Obama is ready for any contingency -- even the possibility of a sudden and dramatic market rebound," he said. "I'm told that at the first sign of recovery, he will suspend his campaign and fly immediately to Washington to address this crisis."

Obama opened by noting that he shares "the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Neumann." He said he obviously never knew Al Smith, "but from everything that Senator McCain has told me, the two of them had a great time together before Prohibition."

Looking around the huge ballroom, he said that he was disappointed with the venue. "I was originally told we'd be able to move this outdoors to Yankee Stadium, and -- can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns that I requested?" But he said he nonetheless loved the venerable Waldorf-Astoria. "I hear," he said in a line aimed Sarah Palin, "that from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian Tea Room."

The economy figured, naturally, into his remarks. "Recently, one of John's top advisers told the Daily News that if we keep talking about the economy, McCain's going to lose," Obama continued. "So, tonight I'd like to talk about the economy. Given all that's happened these past few weeks on Wall Street, it feels like an odd time to be dressed up in white tie, but I must say I got a great deal -- rented the whole outfit from the Treasury Department at a very good price."

One Obama line fell flat in the room of wealthy New Yorkers. "Looking around tonight at all the gourmet food and champagne, it's clear that no expenses were spared," he said. "It's like an executive sales meeting at AIG." That drew groans from some in the audience, although not from a table of labor leaders in the balcony.

He provided an introspective look at his own character and personality. His greatest strength, he told the audience, was "my humility," and his greatest weakness "that I'm a little too awesome." He was so hurt by McCain's accusations that he was nothing but a vapid celebrity that "I punched the paparazzi in the face on my way out of Spago's."

"One other thing," he added. "I have never, not once, put lipstick on a pig or a pit bull or myself. Rudy Giuliani, that's one for you. I mean, who would have thought that a cross-dressing mayor from New York City would have a tough time running for the Republican nomination? It's shocking." He looked over at his rival and added, "That was a tough primary you had there, John."

McCain's speech included gracious and generous words for his opponent. "Political opponents can have a little trouble seeing the best in each other," he said. "But I've had a few glimpses of this man at his best and I admire his great skill, energy and determination. It's not for nothing that he's inspired so many folks in his own party and beyond."

No matter the outcome of the election, he said Obama already has made plenty of history in this campaign. "There was a time when the mere invitation of an African-American citizen to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage and an insult in many quarters," he said. "Today, it's a world away from the crude and prideful bigotry of that time. And good riddance. I can't wish my opponent luck, but I do wish him well."

Obama responded with praise of his own. "We are in the midst of a tough battle right now, and American politics at the presidential level is always tough," he said. "But I've said before, and I think it bears repeating, that there are very few of us who have served this country with the same dedication and honor and distinction as Senator McCain."

He then closed with a reminder to the fortunate in the room that plenty of their fellow citizens are suffering right now and that all have an obligation to help.

"Before Al Smith was a candidate who made history," he said, "he was a man who made a difference, a man who fought for many years to give Americans nothing more than a fair shake and a chance to succeed. And he touched the lives of hundreds of thousands -- of millions as a result. Simply put, he helped people. That's a distinction we can all aspire to, that we can all achieve, young or old, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican or independent. And I have no doubt that if we come together at this moment of crisis with this goal in mind, America will meet this challenge and weather this storm, and, in the words of Al Smith, 'walk once more in eternal sunshine.'"

With that, the speeches were over and the campaign resumed in earnest.

By Web Politics Editor  |  October 17, 2008; 11:28 AM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Dan Balz's Take , John McCain  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Before the Bailout, Firms Were Big Donors
Next: Cindy and Candy on the McCain Plane


Who tolod the funniest jokes? See Funny Videos At

Posted by: roverfind | October 21, 2008 12:45 AM | Report abuse

McCain looked mad!

Somebody must have switched his Preparation-H with Icy-Hot.

Posted by: thenotoriousflavio | October 17, 2008 10:52 PM | Report abuse

If you watch the video you see Hillary laughing like a hyena at McCain, Obama laughing good-naturedly at McCanin, and McCaine laughing for a half-second, then going back to grumpy face, what an a s s.

Posted by: DaveMiner | October 17, 2008 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Some good one-liners by both candidates, but the pick of the bunch has to be Obama's "I came from Planet Krypton to save Earth".
I laughed out loud at that one.

Posted by: kevrobb | October 17, 2008 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Hispana | October 17, 2008 2:07 PM

What Hispana does not understand was that the tax cuts in 2001 were to biased toward the rich. Do not believe me McCain said it at the time when he refused to vote for it. Obama just wants to correct an earlier mistake. He is not trying to redistribute wealth. Hispana and Mr McCain are confused by the Republican party insiders. Hispana's confusion is because of too much koolaid over the years and McCain's because of ambition.

Posted by: Gator-ron | October 17, 2008 3:43 PM | Report abuse

As a partisan Democrat who's been pulling for Obama almost since day one, it's easy to forget that these guys are, well, just people.

Nice to see the humor on both sides.

Hopefully many Republicans reading this will feel the same way, but I suspect their anger may not let them?

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | October 17, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

McCain had some issues during the debate. Medical Issues? What we didnt know. Watch complete 2 min video.

See debate out takes, and highlights.

Posted by: pastor123 | October 17, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Apparently these Repukes haven’t been able to get someone to read the news (now old) about Joe the Plumber to them. Some of them can’t even spell plumber (plummer). When I heard his comments to some of the cable news channel, he came across as a Limbaugh fanboy, with plenty of memorized Repuke party talking points. Joe is a Republican plant. The only interesting thing to read into the Joe the Plumber story is that the Obama campaign doesn’t have screened audiences at its events.

Posted by: miknugget | October 17, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Credit to that last post goes to theotowhathaveyou at whateverthename was other comment board of Iforgotthename news.

Posted by: indiebot | October 17, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Joe the Plumber = Joe the Symble for Mcain's Campaign

Joe doesn't HAVE a plumbling license
Joe doesn't pay his taxes
Joe doesn't make $250,000/yr he makes $40+/yr
Joe boss had no intention of selling his business.
Plumbers only average $47k/yr anyway
Joe is not dealing in reality.
Joe would stand to save on taxes under Obamas plan
Joe's name isn't even "Joe" it's Sam (his middle name is Joe.


Joe is a typical conservadrone

Posted by: indiebot | October 17, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

"One Obama line fell flat in the room of wealthy New Yorkers. "Looking around tonight at all the gourmet food and champagne, it's clear that no expenses were spared," he said."

GREAT line. All of us unwealthy "got it."

Way to go!

Posted by: itsagreatday1 | October 17, 2008 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Joe Th Plumbre who.....

...Is a republican

...owes close to $2000 in back taxes.

....never made $278000 a year.

All brought to you by our neocon friends at Fox News.


Posted by: indiebot | October 17, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

For those of you who put your trust in these fabricated polls, keep up with your fantasies and do not go nuts when you are found out to be wrong. The great majority of these polls have been done favoring democrats by young individuals who are also democrats.

Remember what happened in past elections? Gullible and uninformed individuals behave like ZEALOTS and then they will fall flat on their faces come November 4.

The truth is that the race is much closer and McCain is a great fighter and I will forecast a major upset to the liberal media and Obama followers. And then what? Are you going to claim that the Republicans stole the election? Are you going to cause the promised riots? The sooner that Obama understands that he will lose because of his own failures the better:Failure to understand who is the core of our society!!!!

Posted by: Hispana | October 17, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Anyone here who underestimates the power of "Joe the Plumber" in Obama's latest and most significant GAFFE is a total fool. When Obama interviews this individual who asks him a typical genuine concern, he proves AGAIN that he frankly does not understand most of the middle class people in this country. Actually this is "DEJA VU" to his former comment in San Francisco where he dismissed a good portion of middle America with his out of touch comment on people clinging to guns and religions. His comment brought this all back. Saying that it is good to spread the wealth has touched a raw nerve and for the first time it is put in perspective in front of the american people. It brings down that this concept of taking from some to give away to others that is totally ALIEN to all of the principles that created this country, that many have died for and a great majority of us will defend: we are all united, indivisible and with freedom to pursue our lifes. Obama's class warfare certainly does not belong in this country now and never.

McCain is true to his promise because he respects what we stand for in this country and he will lower taxes for 100% americans.

So, here is the great difference of Obama the candidate that promises to bring socialism to our country , a system totally ALIEN to the CORE of all of our principles and in his obtuse lack of understanding of the average individual in middle America who is the backbone of our country with their hard work, Obama has hit a major foul that will bring him down in his campaign. I was hoping for a gaffe like this that will seal his fate because he has revealed himself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Hispana | October 17, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

It was great to hear Obama call out all the fat cats attending this lavish dinner in a time when main street is in dire straits.

Posted by: ac11 | October 17, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

"Joe the plumber" bottom in the Dow Jones Industrials

Government has forced it's self on the boards of all of Americas' surviving largest financial institutions.

In the Brave New World of absolute unchecked power, those who seek credit for housing or business will be obliged as a precondition to getting any sort of financing , to swear allegiance to the 'Democratic' party.
This is already how mortgages are being facilitated through ACORN.

The "Joe the plumber" bottom in the Dow Jones Industrials tells us America looked over the Dodd/ Pelosi / Frank / Obama precipice and into their Abyss and said; "no thanks".

Joe will go down in American history as the man who single handedly stopped a Communist coup d'ete by telling Obama "You can't have the money out of my pocket for my American Dream so you can redistribute the wealth".

The market is signaling in it's forward forecasting that ;
1) the recession / depression that everyone is expecting will not occur.
2) Mc Cain will win and taxes won't go up.,,1560%20chart,00.html?symb=YM&month=Z&year=08&period=D&study=&study0=&study1=&study2=&study3=&bartype=Bar&bardensity=LOW

Disagree ?
Get Soros to bring out the sellers; they're played out.

Posted by: rtfanning | October 17, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Obama was awesome, really funny!! McCain had a few good ones too but he was rude at times, not funny at all in places. As far as being put in a padded cell as McCain said about Olbermann, that's where McCain and the entire Bush admin belong, in a padded cell, where they can't do any more damage to the American people!

Posted by: Hillary08 | October 17, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Polling may not be so accurate this year:

Posted by: MarkInAustin | October 17, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

The last debate exposed McCain for the petty, desperate, angry old man he is. My greatest fear is that if he dies in office we will have the religious freak Palin in office. If you are not completely frightened by her church and religious affiliations YOU SHOULD BE. Beware of the Chrianistas.

Not to mention Palin's husbands association with Alaska Independence Party who said, "My government is my worst enemy. I'm going to fight them with any means at hand." Alaska governor [Palin] earlier this year told AIP -"Keep up the good work. And God bless you."). Palin is ANTI-America!! Believe it.

I'm now happily voting for Obama.

Obama for President '08!!!

Posted by: glacy3 | October 17, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

bowecy, it's not the three day average that's 2 points right now. Look at the latest LIKELY voter portion. Same thing from AP/Yahoo:

Posted by: MarkInAustin | October 17, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

JPVanderbilt - The latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking report from Tuesday through Thursday shows Barack Obama with a 50%to 43% lead over John McCain among registered voters.

Posted by: bowecy | October 17, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

If Joe the Plumber energized McCain to reinvigorate his campaign, it is appalling as regards to the planning and his message.

McCain's message is that the American dream is only for a select few. What about the majority of the rest of us?

McCain has gambled all along - every step of the way including his choice of VP. It may be heroic in the perspective of some that he retools himself along the way. But gambling is not a trait that America wants now.

McCain/Palin neither seem intelligent nor intelligible.

America should soundly and overwhelmingly reject McCain/Palin.

Posted by: mouli_7982 | October 17, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

bowecy, you can't very well blame someone who simply asked Obama a question ("Joe" is his middle name) on McCain. These last few days of the campaign are targeted to undecided voters anyway.

Posted by: MarkInAustin | October 17, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Obama has the Dumbo ears, and Mccain has Alvin the Chipmunks cheeks, or at least one of them---Without a little humor, we'd all cry over Mccain's Bush-man policies and Sarah Puffin's follow-up questions, so let's get back to work electing Obama and Biden in '08!!

Posted by: benighse | October 17, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

today in the Washington Post: All the reasons Obama is the candidate for this country. Great editorial.

Posted by: bowecy | October 17, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm voting for Obama

Posted by: bowecy | October 17, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

It's called a progressive tax system - not welfare - and virtually every industrialized country does it.

Stop waving the dentists, plumbers, and accountants in our faces like those are the ones that will be hit the hardest by a roll back of the Bush tax cuts. The super wealthy are the ones reaping the vast majority of the benefits of the current tax system, and they don't need anymore help.

Posted by: ManUnitdFan | October 17, 2008 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Joe the plummer is no Joe - and no plummer - just like McCain is no president and Palin no vp. The depths of which the mccain/palin campaign will go is beyond comprehension - do they think we are really that stupid.
I can't wait till this campaign is over and we don't have to listen to anymore republican bull.

Posted by: bowecy | October 17, 2008 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I watched them both last night and it ws so good to see. laughing and joking. It was a nice break from all the negativity and they both said some very funny things. Good for them and we should all feel a little lighter about this election. I know it is serious but we have to come together sometime. May the best man win.

Me, I'm voting for Obama. nuf said

Posted by: lndlouis | October 17, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse


Joe the Plumber is destroying the Obama campaign.

Obama has been exposed as a socialist - take from the workers, give to the non-workers.

The Obama campaign is sinking like the Titanic. Can someone throw one of those styrofoam Greek columns to Obama before he drowns!

Posted by: JPVanderbilt | October 17, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse


Joe the Plumber is destroying the Obama campaign.

Obama has been exposed as a socialist - take from the workers, give to the non-workers.

The Obama campaign is sinking like the Titanic. Can someone throw one of those styrofoam Greek columns to Obama before he drowns!

Posted by: JPVanderbilt | October 17, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse


Your point is trivial. The real point is Only the top 5% (which account for only 29% of all taxes) will see an increase.

Posted by: Godhimself1 | October 17, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

My point is- Let's call taking hard earned money from your plumber, dentist, accountant, psychologist, etc and giving checks to people who currently pay no income tax- welfare, period. If you agree with it, that's your perogative, just let's call it what it is.

Posted by: thecannula | October 17, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

How many people in that room actually make anything, except money from investments? No wonder regular folks have to bail them out when they get overly greedy. This is why I'm so proud that Sen. Feingold voted against the Wall Street bail-out bill.

Posted by: bulldog6 | October 17, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

My guess is you pay very little taxes now and will pay a whole lot less with Obama. Anyone in the lower 95% saying they are bailing anyone out that supports Obama aren't qualified by their contribution to the revenue of the US to make such a statement.

Posted by: johs | October 17, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Oh The Times, They are a Changin'

(RCP today....I know most polls show Obama ahead But the trend is promising for Joe the Plumber and all of the rest of us small businessmen and women)

Florida SurveyUSA Obama 47, McCain 49 McCain +2

National Rasmussen Tracking Obama 50, McCain 46 Obama +4 (down from 8)

National GW/Battleground Tracking Obama 49, McCain 45 Obama +4 (down from 8)

Posted by: thecannula | October 17, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

McCain proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Letterman,Stewart, Colbert and to a lesser degree Leno that the lame excuse that Obama is just not funny is nothing more than a cover for "I'm a true Obama tanker" along with CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, NYT, LAT, PBS, WAPO, and all Hollywood productions.

Posted by: johs | October 17, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

My guess is that neither of these guys have a clue about what AGI really means. For most or all of their adult lives, someone else probably prepared their tax returns, unlike most of the public.

And that's why so few in Washington can connect with the everyday problems of regular people. But then how many of us attend gourmet dinners at the Waldorf in white ties?

How many people in that room actually make anything, except money from investments? No wonder regular folks have to bail them out when they get overly greedy. This is why I'm so proud that Sen. Feingold voted against the Wall Street bail-out bill.

Posted by: bulldog6 | October 17, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse


Your point is trivial. The real point is Only the top 5% (which account for only 29% of all taxes) will see an increase.

Posted by: Godhimself1 | October 17, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Snakeheader | October 17, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse


Why would a small businesswoman in Obama's America want to work longer hours, hire more people, and purchase more stationary from STAPLES, just to give it away? Why wouldn't she want to have more leisure/family time, downsize her business, and make a decent living without passing the income cut off where every dollar she makes gets divided with those NOT CURRENTLY paying Federal Income Tax, who will have their "taxes cut" by getting payments from Obama?

Sounds like a recipe for a depression...

Posted by: thecannula | October 17, 2008 12:00 PM | Report abuse

There is only one ad that Senator Obama needs to keep running and the race will be over:

For the latest on GOP dirty tricks, and the sites you need to monitor to keep track of what's happening:

Posted by: scootmandubious | October 17, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse


You seem like an intelligent FONT ENHANCED gentleman, pray tell me how you "CUT" the bottom 30% who currently pay NO FEDERAL INCOME TAX under your friend and mine, George W Bush?


Is it by giving out money taken from Joe the Plumber? .............

Is that Welfare?

Posted by: thecannula | October 17, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse


David Letterman eviscerated McCain on the William Ayers and Sarah Palin issues. He exposed the sophistry of McCain's argument that Palin is qualified... Letterman's provocations forced McCain to defend his association with convicted Watergate burglar G. Godon Liddy.

McCain's responses revealed himself. This should be front page news. You should be printing the transcript of Letterman's skillful interrogation.

Letterman did what the mainstream media has not been able to do -- get McCain to indict himself on these talking points.


Posted by: scrivener50 | October 17, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

The Tale of Joe the Senator and Joe the Plumber

McCain won the Debate by Introducing the Desires of Hard Working Americans to get Ahead Back into the Race in the Form of Joe the Plumber-

Joe the Plumber now has a voice, speaking for the middle and upper middle class, trying to get ahead. The REAL Rich has been represented by Penny Pritzker's Candidate. Joe said, sure today it's people making over 250K that will get killed by Obama's taxes, but soon, as Obama's agenda gets more expensive, it will be people making 150K, and so's like that old saying about not speaking out when someone comes for your neighbors....soon there will no one left to speak out when someone comes for you.

Biden made over 200K each of the past 3 years and gave less than $1000 in charity total over that time; but he feels it's "Patriotic" to ask everyone else to redistribute THEIR earnings.

You know Joe the Senator, LOTS of us wouldn't mind pulling down 200K a year, not paying higher taxes, not giving much to charity....LIKE YOU!

Posted by: thecannula | October 17, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company