It’s election eve, as far as this column is concerned, and I’m searching for some campaign humor to help me gain some fundamental understanding of the candidates. But the humor is proving to be predictable, and my mind is drifting toward some brutal conclusions about some of the players. Call it straight talk, if that phrase hasn’t been totally impeached by now.
But first a few words about the humor. What kind of a source is that? A major one, apparently, for a lot of voters. While the traditional media — especially daily newspapers and network television — continue to decline, people are turning to nontraditional sources for their news. Rich Lee, communications director for the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey and a teacher of media, government and communications at Rutgers, reports in a blog posted earlier this month that “viewership is up for programs such as Saturday Night Live, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report. Young people — the same demographic group that rarely reads newspapers — are relying on these comedy programs as a source for news.”
In his blog Lee quotes critic Geoffrey Baym: “The Daily Show represents an important experiment in journalism, one that contains much significance for the ongoing redefinition of news. Lying just beneath or perhaps imbricated within the laughter is a quite serious demand for fact, accountability, and reason in political discourse.”
I have been a big believer in alternative sources of news ever since the day 20 years ago or so when I was at a fancy cocktail party and someone asked me what I thought about the situation in Khazakhstan or Kurdistan or Something-istan. I had an opinion at the tip of my tongue — informed by my daily reading of the Doonesbury comic strip.
Now the elusive young voters (and consumers) are flocking to shows like Saturday Night Live, catching it either live or online. In fact, reports Rich Lee, “SNL’s September 27 parody of Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin has been viewed online 4.6 million times, attracting nearly four times as many page views as the actual interview” on the network news.
So I prowled around the Internet and tried to see what I could learn about the candidates from the comedy venues. The Alfred E. Smith dinner in New York, the day after the final presidential debate, was a highlight. Both candidates showed themselves as decent people, willing to laugh at themselves and have others join them. I thought McCain won the roast — he was obviously a veteran performer in this venue. But Obama had the lines that were more memorable to me, including comparing himself to both the former New York governor (and controversial Catholic presidential aspirant in 1928), Alfred E. Smith, and Alfred E. Neuman, Mad magazine’s “what me worry” poster boy to whom Obama does bear a slight resemblance.
McCain’s failure to appear — and then his later appearance — on David Letterman proved to be both entertaining and enlightening. Letterman, who may have assumed he had McCain in his pocket after the senator announced his presidential bid on his show in March, 2007, seemed genuinely aggravated when he was stood up by McCain in favor of an interview with Katie Couric.
In the days that followed the late night host turned McCain into the ongoing butt of punch lines. Finally McCain reappeared on Letterman. Strangely enough, Letterman, the comedian, turned into Letterman the straight talk express, asking more pointed follow up questions than all the presidential debate moderators combined.
Stranger yet, in my opinion, at least, McCain handled the exchange well — presidential, some might say. If you are one of the few people in this world who have not yet made up their mind about this election, you might want to go online and watch McCain on Letterman. It’s funny how all this works.
On that note let’s consider a few final political predictions (from the same “expert” who predicted in this space that Clinton and Romney would be the candidates and after those proved wrong guessed that General Wesley Clark and Romney would be the running mates to Obama and McCain):
The winner: I’m believing the pollsters this time around and thinking Obama will win. Even if he doesn’t win, he will not be perceived as a loser. He will be seen as a victim of either undetected racism or of a late October/early November political “surprise” hatched by Karl Rove or others of his ilk in the Republican Party.
The loser: If McCain loses he will have no one but himself to blame for the Sarah Palin decision. Joe the Plumber would have been no worse a choice than Sarah, the Loose Cannon.
Some commentators are predicting that if McCain loses, Palin will be a likely front runner for the presidential nomination in 2012. No way: As the hockey mom will soon discover, life in the national spotlight will be a little different than life in Alaska. She and her husband and her children (not to mention future son-in-law and grandchild) will be in and out of the gossip magazines between now and 2012. It will be lots of fun, but not very presidential.
And when the fascination with Palin wanes, the family value base of the Republican Party will rediscover Mike Huckabee, the last survivor in the primary grind, who now has a thoughtful talk show on the Fox news network. You might not agree with him, but you can do so agreeably.
Where we will be on Wednesday, November 5: Obama, McCain, or some third party decreed 60 days later by the Supreme Court (now wouldn’t that be funny?), we will all be headed back to the same grind the day after the election. Washington will change them a lot more than any of them changes Washington, or any of us.