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McCain, the jokester, is no laughing matter to the Obama camp

August 15, 2008 |  1:53 pm

John McCain has a reputation that would make a Borscht Belt comedian proud. Of course, humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

He reeled off some of his familiar jokes last night at an Aspen, Colo., fundraiser. (Among the, um, highlights, was calling ”Silent Cal" Coolidge "a hell of a campaigner.”)

At a meeting this morning at the Aspen Institute, McCain was jovial after sharing breakfast with T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire oil man, who has launched a campaign to boost domestic natural gas and wind power as cheaper alternatives to imported oil. Pickens has invested in both alternatives.

“How are you Boone?” McCain greeted Pickens, according to a pool reporter. Also there was a McCain confidante, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham.

McCain told Pickens that Graham, a fellow Southerner, “speaks your language.”

Now, mentioning the accents of people you will need in November may not sound like a great strategy, but McCain has a history of telling people things they don’t like. He campaigns in the industrial areas and praises international trade agreements. He comes to California and praises offshore oil drilling. He went to the Iowa State Fair and said he didn't believe in federal subsidies for ethanol.

Having found a common language, McCain and Pickens made small talk before the cameras. Pickens mentioned that he had recently been in Iowa, and McCain replied that industry  there had attracted a large Hispanic population. Pickens noted the recent Census Bureau report that Caucasians will no longer be the majority in the United States by 2042. “We’ll go in the minority by 2042. You and I won’t have to worry about that,” Pickens said, according to the pool report.

As aides began ushering the pool reporters from the Pickens breakfast, one called out: "Senator McCain, can you say anything about the Jerome Corsi book, 'Obama Nation'?" McCain stepped toward the reporter, possibly to hear better, and the reporter repeated "The Jerome Corsi book? That book, 'Obama Nation,' Jerome Corsi, that some people are asking...."

McCain replied "Gotta keep your sense of humor," and the pool was escorted from the room. The McCain camp later said that the candidate had not heard the question and thought the reporter was asking about the campaign's recent television ads. 

For its part, the Obama campaign didn't take the reference to Corsi's book, “The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality,” as a laughing matter. Corsi achieved fame -- or depending on your viewpoint, infamy –- as the co-author of “Unfit for Command,” the attack on the Vietnam War record of 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

In his current book, Corsi argues that Barack Obama is a dangerous radical. According to the Associated Press, the book is a compilation of all the innuendo and false rumors, easily available on the Internet, against Obama — that he was raised a Muslim, attended a radical, black church and secretly has a "black rage" hidden beneath the surface.

The Obama campaign -- eager to discredit the book and slam the Republican candidate in the process -- immediately shot back, issuing a statement before McCain aides put out their clarification.

“The old John McCain used to boast about honorable politics, while the new John McCain finds Rovian smears funny,” Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a prepared statement today. McCain’s presidential hopes were dashed by nasty rumors --- allegedly spread by Karl Rove -- in 2000.

“Honor is not a laughing matter. What does John McCain think is funny about an intolerant smear artist who called Pope John Paul II senile and claims the government lied about 9/11?,” Vietor said of Corsi.
“McCain has said he wants to run an honorable campaign, but his belief that these smears are funny makes people question whether he now approves of the same reprehensible politics used to smear his own character eight years ago.”

--Michael Muskal

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