In this year’s U.S presidential election, the line between reality, parody and satire seemed to zigzag more often than a used-car salesman turned politician’s promises. Take for example Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. She went from Republican president ticket saviour to national joke as fast as you can say Tina Fey.
Fey’s devastatingly funny portrayal of Palin on “Saturday Night Live” this season broke from traditional caricature. The mastery of Fey as Palin on SNL lay in her nonsense answers to mock-interview questions which were actually taken line-for-line from actual interviews.
“As Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where – where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border,” said Palin/Fay when quizzed on her extensive foreign policy experience.
Describing her impression to David Letterman, Fey said, “She has a really crazy voice. It’s a little bit Fargo, a little bit Reese Witherspoon in Election. I also try and base it on my friend Paula’s grandma.”
Palin’s Democratic counterpart Joe Biden, when discussing the stock market crash of 1929 said that Roosevelt had gone on TV and reassured the nation, which sounds fair enough, except Roosevelt wasn’t president at the time. And there was no TV.
Then there was the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a New York charity event where McCain and Barack Obama roasted each other and treated the audience to some rare self-depreciating gags.
“Who is Barack Obama?” asked the Democratic nominee, who has been plagued by smears about his roots during the campaign. “Contrary to the rumours you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the Planet Earth. Many of you know that I got my name, Barack, from my father. What you may not know is Barack is actually Swahili for ‘That One’. And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn’t think I’d ever run for president. If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it’s possible that I’m a little too awesome.
“I do love the Waldorf-Astoria, though. You know, I hear that from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian tea room.
“But I have to say tonight’s venue isn’t really what I’m used to. I was originally told we’d be able to move this outdoors to the Yankee Stadium, and can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns that I requested?”
McCain informed the audience that he had dismissed his entire team of senior advisers. “All their positions will now be held by a man named Joe the Plumber.”
“Even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats. I can’t shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me … I’m delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary!”
Then there were the debates. Obama’s voice made you think he was about to start advertising coffee, or something altogether stronger: “I want to say to the American people: this is the finest, mellowest blend your money can buy.” McCain, meanwhile, brought it down to the lowest common denominator and swung topic after topic back to his friend Joe the Plumber.
Joe instantly became a national celebrity, and the inevitable target of the blogovultures. A day after the speech, it seemed, his name wasn’t Joe, he didn’t have a plumbing licence, and he owed over a thousand dollars in back taxes. Apparently McCain had put as much effort into researching his everyman as he did vetting his running mate. Maybe it’s a back-up plan: if he doesn’t win the presidency, he’s going to launch a stop-motion animation series on Nickelodeon. There’s probably a warehouse full of Joe the Plumber action figures out there somewhere in the Arizona desert just waiting for the say-so.
You’d expect Obama to counter McCain’s talk of Joe the Plumber by bringing up Boris the Spider or Dennis the Menace or something, but no. He started addressing Joe too. Before long they were both at it, appealing to Joe straight down the lens, which meant I had to keep looking behind me in case he was standing there, fixing a pipe.
Also revealed was the fact that Palin has spent a staggering $150,000 dollars since her VP nomination. I’m not sure Joe six-pack and the boys from Wasilla are spending that kind of money at Saks Fifth Avenue.
The self-styled hockey mom got herself into more hot water with her comments about “real America”. “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation,” she enthused. Democrats pounced on the remarks. Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show, pointed out that that would mean the rest of America was a fake America, and since this fake America included New York City, Bin Laden must be hiding in shame at attacking the wrong country.
If it the media seemed a little one-sided, keep in mind that Obama actually didn’t make very many gaffes. His most memorable came when he welcomed his surprise running mate on stage for the first time, “Let me introduce to you the next President – the next Vice President! – of the United States of America, Joe Biden.” Not exactly up there with Palin’s antics.
He also had a slightly odd moment when referring to “the lipstick on a pig”. Republicans immediately announced that Obama was referring to Palin, although he denied this entirely.
McCain’s had a few odd moments himself. During the second town hall debate, rather than just stand still listening to Obama speak he wandered aimlessly around the stage and pulling faces post-debate pundits described as “angry and troll-like”.
One of McCain’s biggest gaffes has to have been when he stressed that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” only days before the financial crisis really came to the fore. Earlier he was stumped when asked how many houses he owns, very encouraging for a candidate reaching out to the working class.
All in all, an entertaining campaign. With Obama seemingly set, it’s back to plain old scripted comedy until 2012.