Does Sarcasm Sell?

Does Sarcasm Sell?

Does Sarcasm Sell?

A campaign blog.
Aug. 1 2008 5:01 PM

Does Sarcasm Sell?

Comedians have been fretting about how hard it is to make fun of Barack Obama. Now John McCain is running up against the same problem.

In two weeks, the McCain camp has released its " Obama Love " video, the now-famous " Celebrity " ad, and now a Web video mocking Obama’s popularity by calling him " The One ":

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Whether you think Obama is all hype or not, there are two problems with this strategy. For one thing, sarcasm isn’t really attractive in political discourse. Humor can be a plus (just look at Mike Huckabee), but sarcasm—dismissive, condescending—makes the speaker sound bitter. It’s less about wit than attitude. And secondly, whatever the message, McCain is still running a bunch of ads praising Obama . There he is, smiling and waving! Look at all the people who love him! Until the message flashes onscreen—"But is he ready to lead?"—you might have thought the spot was pro -Obama.

Who knows, maybe using Obama’s fame and success against him will work. Maybe it plays into the " arrogant " / " presumptuous " / " uppity " narrative that seems to be gaining steam. But the problem is that Obama has already made the joke. The "One" video shows a clip of Obama describing how on Election Day, "a light will shine down … you will experience an epiphany, and you will say to yourself, I have to vote for Barack." You could argue that he wasn’t really being self-deprecating, he was actually cloaking his own Messiah complex in a humorous guise. But either way, he was there before McCain.

Ben Smith argued a few weeks back that McCain’s brand of humor often backfires. I can’t help but wonder if his recent spate of ads will, too.