Message: I Joke

A campaign blog.
Nov. 2 2008 12:24 AM

Message: I Joke

Political comedy is hard. On-message political comedy is damn near impossible.

But John McCain managed to pull it off on last night’s Saturday Night Live , where, with the help of Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, he poked fun of Barack Obama’s much-viewed half-hour special. McCain would have bought time on all major networks for his own infomercial. "We, however, can only afford QVC."

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So McCain and "Palin" proceeded to unveil various on-message infomercial products, including a collection of plates to commemorate McCain and Obama’s 10 town-hall meetings, all of which are blank ("He wouldn’t agree to those debates," McCain helpfully explained. "Too bad!");   a series of "Joe" action figures, including Joe the Plumber and Joe Biden ("Pull his string, and he speaks for 45 minutes."); and a set of knives especially designed for cutting out pork.

It wasn’t all on-message. At one point, Palin pulls the viewer aside to tout her "Palin 2012" T-shirts. McCain asks what she’s doing. "Just talkin’ about taxes," she says. She later quips, "Either I’m runnin’ in four years or I’m gonna be a white Oprah." There’s always back-and-forth between campaigns and the show as to which jokes get in and which ones don’t. (Watch Seth Meyers explain here .) So props to McCain for letting some of the touchier jokes fly.

Why pick the last weekend before Election Day to make fun of yourself? Free publicity never hurts. (Not that McCain needs it—he’s outspending Obama on advertising in the final week.) But it also opens the door for McCain to go out on a high note. One of the toughest narratives for a losing campaign to fight is the bleak Final Days storyline. But there’s no better way to do it than a little self-deprecation.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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