Should McCain Appear on 'SNL' and 'The Daily Show?'

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: May 20, 2008 11:00 AM
Laura Ingraham disagrees with me on this one (see us discuss it on O'Reilly last night). I can see the argument from fellow conservatives that this kind of thing is beneath the dignity of the office, but I can't entirely agree. Reagan's humor was one of his best qualities. It made him beloved and allowed him to parry everything from assaults on his age to the American value system (remember those old Communist jokes?).

In '84, Reagan had the luxury of being able to wait until a debate to deliver his immortal line:
In the first televised debate, Mondale put in an unexpectedly strong performance, questioning Reagan's age and capacity to endure the grueling demands of the presidency (Reagan was the oldest person to serve as president -- 73 at the time -- while Mondale was 56). However, in the next debate on October 21, 1984, Reagan effectively neutralized the issue by quipping, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."
It was a clever, quick-witted retort delivered in a dignified setting, and it had even Mondale in stitches. He undermined the age attack perfectly with his clear presence of mind.

McCain did the same on "SNL" and does it frequently with quick retorts in the town hall style meetings he loves so much. He cannot wait until official debates start to neutralize the age issue. He cannot tarry until the Democrats finally pick a candidate and he is given a setting that suits the dignity of the President of the United States.

I think comedy shows, somewhat counterintuitively, are McCain's milieu. He's comfortable and likeable in these settings, and in the case of "SNL" and "The Daily Show," they often give him a chance to hit on policy issues. When he appears on these shows there's a little bit of a challenge in it for Obama, who should be the one owning these stages. "I can operate on your turf, Junior," McCain seems to say. "Now, look what happens when you try to play on mine. You start saying Iran's not a threat. Amateur."

Don't get me wrong. He will not turn the masses of Obama drones toward him with these appearances, but he does escape the "humorless conservative" label and upholds the McCain brand, which at this point is a damn sight better than the Republican one if you're looking for a win in November. These appearances, for what it's worth, also put the one Republican that young people are more inclined to vote for in front of young people. It's not gonna win him the youth vote, but it's a decent (if not perfect) conduit for a couple conservative ideas.

Bottom line, it's good politics, and I don't think he's done anything to disgrace the office. It's the same quick wit we loved in Reagan; he's just practicing it in different venues. I think it's something conservatives need to do.