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A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Pennsylvania Primary
April 22, 2008  | By David Bianculli

Today is the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, the culmination of six weeks of media coverage and political moves, countermoves, gaffes and damage control. Tonight's coverage, especially on cable news, will dissect to the death the point spread, the implications, and what happens next.

Candidates appeared everywhere up to the last minute, including appearances on Today this morning. Last night, via satellite, Hillary Clinton was on CNN's Larry King Live, and Barack Obama on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann. But the most memorable appearance, as has happened so often during the campaign, came on a comedy show.

Obama, courting the youth vote, appeared via satellite on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night. Unlike last week's debate, both the questions and the responses were a delight, and revealed more about Obama than his more conventional grilling in other media venues.


"Do you have a concern," Stewart asked Obama, "that you could win the nomination at the convention, could defeat John McCain in the general [election], and go to your inauguration, and Hillary would still be running?" At first, before calling his opponent "formidable," Obama said nothing -- but beamed such a wide, delighted smile that you know he adored the question.

And when Stewart asked, were Obama elected President of the United States, if he would "pull a bait-and-switch, sir, and enslave the white race?," Obama again reveled in both the absurdity and the subtext.

"That is not our plan, Jon," he said with mock seriousness. "But I think your paranoia might make you suitable as a debate moderator."


It was a terrific, smart, funny appearance on a show very important to, and trusted by, young people. Last week, both Obama and Clinton appeared the same night on another such show, Comedy Central's The Colbert Report -- but the surprise scene-stealer that day was John Edwards, who showed up on Stephen Colbert's last show from Philadelphia to turn "The Word" into "EdWords." Edwards, with the May 6 North Carolina primary one of the few remaining contests, tried to turn his clout as a former senator there into some tangible measures of respect. Like a jet ski or two. Edwards was a riot, and seemed to enjoy himself there more than at any point when he was on the campaign trail.

When a politician appears on a comedy or talk show and acts like a regular guy or gal, and gets laughs or does something different, people take notice. It may be no more revealing or significant than downing a shot or a beer, rolling a bowling ball or donning a baseball hat -- but it's no less significant, either. Bill Clinton knew that when he played the sax on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992, and his wife knew that when she popped in recently on Saturday Night Live. Politicians ignore or downplay these shows, and their audiences, at their peril.


That's why all three presidential candidates -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain -- all showed up on the Idol Gives Back installment of American Idol. And why even the current President pops up on entertainment shows on occasion, as he did in yesterday's NBC Deal or No Deal.

What? You expected George Bush to visit The Daily Show? McCain has been a visitor several times, but Bush? In Deal or No Deal terms, that's a No Deal all the way...

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