Obama mocks rivals in Vegas standup routine

January 18, 2008 7:31:58 PM PST
The White House campaign has brought a new act to Vegas. Democrat Barack Obama tried to use humor to cut down rival Hillary Rodham Clinton before Saturday's presidential caucus. His "Iowa nice" approach gone, Obama debuted a biting political standup routine Thursday night that mocked his rival, and employed it again on Friday.

Obama began by recalling a moment in Tuesday night's debate when he and his rivals were asked to name their biggest weakness. Obama answered first, saying he has a messy desk and needs help managing paperwork - something his opponents have since used to suggest he's not up to managing the country. John Edwards said his biggest weakness is that he has a powerful response to seeing pain in others, and Clinton said she gets impatient to bring change to America.

"Because I'm an ordinary person, I thought that they meant, 'What's your biggest weakness?"' Obama said to laughter from a packed house at Rancho High School. "If I had gone last I would have known what the game was. And then I could have said, `Well, ya know, I like to help old ladies across the street. Sometimes they don't want to be helped. It's terrible."'

"Folks, they don't tell you what they mean!" he said. Obama chuckled at his own joke before riffing on another Clinton answer in the debate, when she said that she is happy that the bankruptcy bill she voted for in 2001 never became law.

"She says, 'I voted for it but I was glad to see that it didn't pass.' What does that mean?" he asked, again drawing laughter from the crowd and himself. "No seriously, what does that mean? If you didn't want to see it passed, then you can vote against it! People don't say what they mean.

"You know what I'm saying is true," he said, then addressed his routine directly at audience members who don't know who they will vote for yet. "Undecideds, remember now, remember what I'm saying."

He continued by responding to a new Clinton radio ad that accused him of having financial ties to supporters of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site that most Nevadans are loath to come to their state.

"I have said over and over again I'm against Yucca," Obama said. "I'm against Yucca Mountain. I think the science is not there. I've never, I've never been for Yucca. Never been for it. Never said I was for it.

"Suddenly you've got the Clinton camp out there saying, `He's for Yucca.' What part of I'm not for Yucca do you not understand?" he said, then laughed along with his audience.

As the laughter subsided, Obama drove home the broader point he's been trying to make against Clinton the entire campaign.

"Those kinds of tricks, that kind of approach to politics is what has to stop because what happens is then nobody believes anything," Obama said. "The voters don't believe what politicians say. They get cynical. Folks in Congress, they'll tell you they're looking out for you - they're looking out for somebody else. We have to change that politics and that's why I'm running for president."

Clinton spokesman Phil Singer retorted with a dig at Obama's experience.

"Judging from his act, it doesn't sound like Senator Obama has much experience doing stand-up either," Singer said in a statement. "Nothing says change more than using jokes to distort his opponents' records."

Obama repeated the routine Friday in Reno. "This is political speak. This is what you learn in Washington for all those years of experience," he said. "It's funny except it's sad because it means the American people are constantly having to sort out what people mean."

Humor is a tradition on the Las Vegas Strip and in presidential campaigns because it's a way to score a point without sounding too negative. President Bush used it to skewer John Kerry in 2004 as fancy and soft on terrorism, while Ronald Reagan was one of the best at wielding one-liners.

In a 1980 debate Reagan sidelined Jimmy Carter's criticism with a dismissive "there you go again." He answered questions about his advanced age in a 1984 debate by saying he wouldn't make an issue of Walter Mondale's youth and inexperience.