Beauty, the Bear and McCain's LFC strategy. Having a laugh?
One of the best things about covering U.S. elections is the timing: they're fixed for November. It means those of us traipsing around the campaign trail get the chance to see the country in its autumnal glory. The Fall offers the very best of American beauty. The browns, reds, yellow and gold of the maple and oak promised an almost edible scene as we drove through Pennsylvania en route to meet an old military colleague of John McCain (interview to be broadcast soon - it's intriguing, particularly on the matter of discipline).
Just outside Meyersdale, at a point where one was edging towards blasé about yet another sensational vista, we saw a bear on the road. Now even in this land of opportunity you don't spot a bear every day. But there he was, on all fours, with us bearing down in our Dodge. After no more than seconds, as we registered him and he clocked us, he rose onto two legs, up to perhaps six of his seven foot height, and wheeled off and away into the woods, presumably there to do what bears reputedly do, in the woods.
At any rate Pete the American sheepfarmer, who's a regular travelling companion and authority on U.S. nature, insists the bear would have been shaken by the experience. Apparently black bears fear humans whereas brown bears - the grizzlies - will take your head off, just for the heck of it. But they're over in the western states so we should be safe enough. Indoors.
My own knowledge of nature is somewhat limited, but I'm fascinated by Senator McCain's current electoral posture: is he playing possum like a, er, possum? That's what he seems to be suggesting by his insistence that, averaging six points behind Obama in the polls, he's got his opponent "exactly where we want him." As David Brooks the conservative commentator asked, does this mean he'd be even happier if he were twelve points behind?
McCain is perhaps inspired by Liverpool FC's recent performances in what the Americans call the EPL (English Premier League). Today, via satellite in Arlington, I enjoyed yet another spectacular Liverpool comeback. Two - one down with ten minutes to go, the increasingly Mighty Reds scored twice more to win. It's the fifth time this season they've fallen behind only to secure splendid victories in the dying minutes. This will of course be infuriating to some, but for myself and my new American Koppite chums it was the ideal start to a Fall weekend.
Tonight Senator. McCain will be hoping for assistance from his winking, maverick sidekick, Governor Palin. After being satirised for weeks by Tina Fey and the comedians of Saturday Night Live, Sarah Palin is to appear on the show alongside her doppelganger. Politicians love these opportunities to send themselves up, showing they're real people with a real sense of humour. SNL may not be the game changer the pundits say the Republican ticket needs, but it can surely do them no harm.
Humour, or the right kind joke, is always helpful. In the past 48 hours, John McCain has put in a nicely pitched piece of self deprecation on Letterman, while McCain and Obama swapped jokes at a charity dinner in Manhattan. I 'll leave you with chunks from both candidates' speeches. Whoever wrote them, they're hilarious. If only they could deliver this sort of material on the stump...
Here's a clip - transcripts below
John McCain at the Alfred E Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner:
"This is a very distinguished and influential audience and as good a place as any to make a major announcement.
Events are moving fast in my campaign. And, yes, it's true that this morning I dismissed my entire team of senior advisers. All of their positions will now be held by a man named "Joe the Plumber."
Already my friends, my opponents have been subjecting Joe to their vicious attack machines. His veracity has been questioned by Barack Obama's running mate Joe the six term senator. He claims that this honest, hardworking small businessman could not possibly have enough income to face a tax increase under the Obama plan. What they don't know is "Joe the Plumber" recently signed a very lucrative contract with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all seven of their houses.
This campaign needed the common touch of a working man. After all, it began so long ago with the heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as "The One." Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him that one. And he -- my friends, he doesn't mind at all. In fact, he even has a pet name for me _ George Bush.
It's been that kind of contest. And I come here tonight to the Al Smith Dinner knowing that I'm the underdog in these final weeks. But if you know where to look, there are signs of hope. There are signs of hope even in the most unexpected places -- even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats. I can't -- I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me.
I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary. Where's Bill, by the way? Can't he take one night off from his tireless quest to make the man who defeated his wife the next president?
A man who's a relentless advocate for the Obama campaign and he has this subtle approach to making the case. When a reporter asked him if Senator Obama was qualified to be president, Bill Clinton pointed out, sure, he's over 35 years of age and a U.S. citizen. He was pandering to the strict constructionist crowd.
He's also been hammering away at me with epitaphs like American hero and great man. And with all the cameras running, he warmly embraced me at that Global Initiative of his. My friends, this is nothing but a brazen attempt to suppress turnout among anti-Clinton conservatives.
Finally, when Larry King asked President Clinton a couple weeks ago what was the delay and why wasn't he out there on the trail for Barack, Bill said his hands were tied until the end of the Jewish high holidays. Now, you've got to admire that ecumenical spirit. I just know Bill would like to be out there now, stumping for Barack until the last hour of the last day. Unfortunately, he is constrained by his respect for any voters who might be observing the Zoroastrian new year."
Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner:
"There is no other crowd in America that I'd rather be palling around with right now. I'm sorry he couldn't be here. I do send regards to my running mate, Joe Biden, or as Senator McCain noted, he now actually likes to be called Joe the Senator.
I was thrilled to get this invitation and I feel right at home here because it's often been said that I share the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Neumann.
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 Yankee Stadium, and -- can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek Columns that I requested?
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. It is an honor to be here with Al Smith. I obviously never knew your great grandfather, but from everything that Senator McCain has told me, the two of them had a great time together before Prohibition. So -- wonderful stories.
The mayor of this great city, Michael Bloomberg, is here. The mayor recently announced some news -- made some news by announcing he's going to be rewriting the rules and running for a third term, which caused Bill Clinton to say, you can do that? The president's better half, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is here. Glad to see you made it, Hillary. I'm glad to see that you made it because I heard Chuck Schumer actually tried to tell you that we really did move this event to Yankee Stadium.
But I'll tell you all from personal experience, Hillary Clinton is one of the toughest and most formidable presidential candidates in history. She's broken barriers. She's inspired millions. She is the -- she is the primary reason I have all this gray in my hair now. I am also glad to see that Senator Schumer is here, and I see that he's brought some of his loved ones. Those would be the folks with the cameras and the notebooks in the back of the room.
Of course, I am especially honored to be here tonight with my distinguished opponent, Senator John McCain. I think it is a tribute to American democracy that with two weeks left in a hard-fought election, the two of us could come together and sit down at the same dinner table without preconditions.
Recently, one of John's top advisers told the "Daily News" that if we keep talking about the economy, McCain's going to lose. So, tonight I'd like to talk about the economy.
Given all that's happened these past few weeks on Wall Street, it feels like an odd time to be dressed up in white tie, but I must say I got a great deal, rented the whole outfit from the treasury department at a very good price.
Looking around tonight at all the gourmet food and champagne, it's clear that no expenses were spared. It's like an executive sale meeting at AIG."