Sarcasm on the campaign trail

Slate’s chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, wrote a great piece Friday about how both presidential candidates’ campaigns have gone from inspirational to conventional. He takes Barack Obama to task for deigning to use sarcasm in his attacks on John McCain (how dare he!), and takes McCain to task for, well, pretty much his entire campaign.

From the column:

In recent weeks, John McCain has been portraying himself as force for change, particularly in response to the recent economic crisis. This makes Barack Obama happy. Change is his turf. He’s been talking about it for two years. This also makes Barack Obama incredulous. Change is his turf. He’s been talking about it for two years.

Obama has responded to McCain’s new pitch with a torrent of sarcasm.

In doing so, he sounds a lot like his opponent. So while McCain tries to adopt Obama’s message (even using the same phrases), Obama is trying out some McCain attitude — and this presidential campaign is beginning to sound very familiar.

Reacting to McCain’s claim that he’s going to take on the “old boys’ network,” Obama notes that several former lobbyists now work on the McCain campaign. “The old boys’ network?” he asks, then pauses a beat like a true comedian. “In the McCain campaign, that’s called a staff meeting.”

Ha! ROFL! If this whole “president” thing doesn’t work out, Obama can join Bob Dole on the comedy circuit.

Now don’t get me wrong — the author of the piece and I are both huge fans of sarcasm. I lean more toward the snarky end of the spectrum, but that’s only because I’ve seen politics from the inside. You either laugh or cry, and the laughter comes out more like a deranged cackle because laws, not sausage, come out the other end.

But putting Obama down on the same level as McCain grossly distorts the two campaigns. Sarcastic remarks about genuine policy differences really can’t compare to the outright lies from McCain that drew criticism from even Karl Rove for going “too far.” On the other hand, I think Obama has made an admirable effort to not attack McCain personally, instead just going after his ideas.

Furthermore, when it came to light that VP candidate Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol had a new member of the family on the way, Obama told reporters to “back off.” From the ABC News blog: “‘Let me be as clear as possible: I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people’s families are off limits … and people’s children are especially off limits. This shouldn’t be part of our politics. … It has no relevance to Gov. Palin’s performance as governor, or her potential performance as a vice president.'”

To his credit, earlier this year McCain condemned a supporter who used Obama’s middle name like an epithet. But that was February and this is now. It greatly disappoints me that McCain, who I thought would run a new kind of campaign along with Obama, has almost entirely slipped into the well-trodden nastiness we’ve come to know and abhor in this country. More from Dickerson’s column:

Once upon a time, both McCain and Obama were seen as nontraditional candidates. McCain was going to give straight talk, and Obama was going to stamp out cynicism. They were going to have joint town-hall appearances, not question each other’s motives [which Obama hasn’t -JB], and vacation together in the islands after it was all over. That’s all gone now. We’re back to the familiar.

McCain, who regularly used to declare that “spinning is lying,” is whirring like a scratched DVD. His campaign, once known for being open and accessible, is now shuttered and arid like the Bush campaigns of 2000 and 2004.

Three cheers for a presidential campaign that sticks to the issue … oh, never mind.

Colorado Independent’s blogumnist (blogger-columnist) Jeff Bridges has worked in Democratic politics for the last 10 years, serving as communications director for two congressional races in Colorado and two governor’s races in the Deep South. Bridges also worked as a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., with a focus on military and small business issues.

Read Jeff’s latest commentaries.

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Jeff Bridges

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