lessons from America

The jokers in the political pack

The economy must be worse in the States than I thought.  Even those involved in politics are having to get second jobs.  Of course we already knew that political comedian Al Franken was having to supplement his income with a run for the Senate in Minnesota.  But I didn’t realise that even the presidential candidates were having to moonlight as comedians.  But that’s exactly what they did yesterday in New York, at a special dinner.  The Al Smith dinner.  The links to the videos are below.  McCain was up first and was on good form: likeable, funny, at ease and very different from his debate performances.  Obama’s delivery was slightly more stilted and nervous and while he had some good lines, comedy is not going to become a profitable sideline for him.

(clip 1) McCain’s speech
(clip 2) end of McCain’s speech, first part of Obama’s
(clip 3) Obama’s speech

Would we ever get our prime ministerial candidates ‘bringing the funny’ and sending themselves and their campaigns up in the same way?  And knowing that it would be broadcast, as opposed to a completely private event?  I don’t see it happening.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that situation.  The Al Smith dinner is a one-off event on the campaign trial and a venerable but very specific tradition.  And then there is also the US tradition of candidates going on the evening talk shows and sending themselves up a little – this election cycle taken to new heights / extremes on Saturday Night Live.  A chat on the daytime sofa with Richard & Judy or Des O’Connor, or a spot with Jonathan Ross, just is not quite the same. 

The Victorian, or more accurately Bagehot, view of the “dignified” aspects of our constitution still prevails.  Just maybe though we need a little less dignity from our politicians and a bit more humility and humour.  Not often, but enough to show that they are human; and that while politics is a serious business it can also be accessible and fun and put in perspective, even at election time.  We all hear that Gordon Brown has a great sense of humour and energy in private.  And John Major’s friends always used to say the same about him.  So maybe an opportunity to show this side of their characters might be politically beneficial …. as well as a chance for people to laugh with, rather than at, them.  After all, Maggie Thatcher’s one-off ‘Yes Minister’ sketch is fondly remembered and part of political folklore.  And it also works – just as the SNL sketches and the Al Smith dinner speeches do – because it is rooted in the political context of that person/moment.  Just having Gordon and Dave do a Comic Relief-style silly scene wouldn’t have the same effect … and would be hideous to watch on many levels.


October 18, 2008 Posted by | lessons from America | , , , , | Leave a comment