When Politics Is Funny
I have about a zillion other things to do today -- there are books to write, errands to run, phone calls to make -- but as I can't seem to concentrate on anything else but the election. I went back and watched, again, the Saturday Night Live episodes featuring Sarah Palin (the real one) and John McCain. I also watched, again, the truly extraordinary video of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner three weeks ago. If you haven't seen it, watch it today; it will make you feel better about the election, whoever you're voting for.
Both candidates were there, both made speeches and both were genuinely funny. They laughed at themselves, at each other and at the asembled guests. "Even in this room full of proud Manhattan democrats," said McCain,"I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me... I'm delighted to see you here tonight Hillary." Everyone roared. Even Hillary herself.
As I've written, there is something rather extraordinary about the role humor plays in American politics: It reflects the fact that politics in the United States isn't, as in many places, a matter of life or death -- whoever loses today is not going to jail, and his followers will not be removed from their jobs or houses. It also means the political class has some healthy distance from what it does, at least a few nights a year.
Looking back on it, though, I think there was another significance to that dinner -- which was one of the few times during this campaign that the two candidates appeared together outside the debates or the Senate. Though the event didn't quite get the media attention it deserved, it did break some kind of tension. Afterwards, I'm convinced, the tone of both campaigns grew milder. Having clearly enjoyed one another's jokes ("I can do maverick... Messiah is above my pay grade" said McCain) the desire to skewer one another on the campaign trail was dampened. The worst thing Obama has said about McCain, in the past few days, is that he resembles George Bush; the worst thing McCain has said about Obama is that he will raise taxes. On a historical scale of political insults, these must rank pretty low.
Both candidates also look looser, happier, now, than they did a few weeks ago. But maybe that's just because it's all over.
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