U.S. presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama took a lighthearted
break from campaigning Thursday at a charity dinner in New York City. The
Republican and Democratic party candidates poked fun at each other and at
themselves before an audience including many of the nation's leading political
figures. VOA's Walter Wisniewski has this report.
Senators McCain and Obama were on stage
together for a second night in a row, following their third and final debate of
the election campaign on Wednesday. But at the annual Al Smith memorial dinner,
a political tradition in New York, the candidates were competing to see who
could trigger the biggest laughs.
McCain struck first.
announcement. Events are moving fast in my campaign, and yes, it's true that
this morning I've dismissed my entire team of senior advisers," he joked. "All
of their positions will now be held by a man named 'Joe the
"Joe the Plumber" is a businessman from Ohio who challenged
Obama at one of his campaign appearances, and who was invoked repeatedly by both
senators in their debate this week.
Obama, in turn, announced that his
vice presidential running mate, Senator Joseph Biden, now prefers to be known
simply as "Joe the Senator."
The Al Smith dinner honors a Democrat who
ran unsuccessfully for president 80 years ago and raises money for Catholic
charities. The traditional gathering attracts politicians from all parties, and
only humorous speeches are allowed.
In an earlier debate this month
McCain referred to Obama, standing near him onstage, not by name but as "that
one" - a remark that some criticized as demeaning or even insulting. The Arizona
senator joked on Thursday that he came up with the phrase after hearing that
some of Obama's most ardent supporters referred to him reverently as "the
"Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him 'that
one.' [laughter] My friends, he doesn't mind at all. In fact, he even has a pet
name for me: George Bush."
McCain also won laughs by slyly suggesting
that former President Bill Clinton's support for Obama has been less than
wholehearted, because the Illinois senator won his party's nomination only after
crushing the presidential hopes of Mr. Clinton's wife, Senator Hillary Rodham
Speaking after McCain, Obama surveyed the audience and said:
"There is no other crowd in America that I'd rather be palling around with right
A wry reference to allegations by McCain's running mate, Alaska
Governor Sarah Palin, that Obama had been "palling around with" people once
considered American terrorists.
"It is a tribute to American democracy
that with two weeks left in a hardfought election, the two of us could come
together and sit down together at the same dinner table ... without
preconditions," Obama kept his humor deadpan. "Now recently one of John's
advisers told the Daily News [newspaper]
that if we keep talking about the economy, McCain's going to lose. So tonight
I'd like to talk about the economy."
The candidates laughed heartily at
each other's jokes, but they also spoke warmly about their mutual respect and
McCain said Obama "is an impressive fellow in many
"Political opponents can have a little trouble in seeing the best
in each other, but I've had a few glimpses of this man at his best, and I admire
his great skill, energy and determination," McCain said.
Senator Obama's campaign has made history.
"There was a time when a mere
invitation of an African-American citizen to dine at the White House was taken
as an outrage and an insult in many quarters," he noted. "Today is a world away
from the crude and prideful bigotry of that time, and good riddance. I can't
wish my opponent luck, but I do wish him well."
Obama reflected on the
tough battles that have marked this presidential campaign.
said before and I think it bears repeating, that there are very few of us who
have served this country with the same dedication and honor and distinction as
Senator McCain," Obama said. "No matter what divisions or differences or
arguments we're having right now, we ultimately belong to something bigger and
more lasting than a politcal party. We belong to a community. We share a
country. We are all children of God."