At the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner on Thursday night, John McCain and Barack Obama trade comic darts. UPDATED This post contains transcripts of McCain and Obama remarks
JOHN MCCAINSEN. MCCAIN: (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Your Excellency and Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson, Senators Schumer and Clinton, Senator Obama, Al and Nan Smith, thank you, all, for the warm welcome. It’s a privilege to be with all of you for the 63rd anniversary dinner of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation. And this is a very distinguished and influential audience and as good a place as any to make a major 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. All of their positions will now be held by a man named Joe the Plumber. (Laughter, applause.)
Already, my friends, my opponents have been subjecting Joe to their vicious attack machine. His veracity has been questioned by Barack Obama’s running mate, Joe the Six-Term Senator. (Laughter.) He claims that this honest, hard-working, small-business man could not possibly have enough income to face a tax increase under the Obama plan. What they don’t know — what they don’t know — is that Joe the Plumber recently signed a very lucrative contract with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all seven of their houses! (Laughter, cheers, applause.)
This campaign needed the common touch of a working man. After all, it began so long ago with the heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as “The One.” Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him “that one.” (Laughter, applause.) My friends, he doesn’t mind at all. In fact, he even has a pet name for me — George Bush. (Laughter, cheers, applause.)
It’s been that kind of contest, and I come here tonight to the Al Smith dinner knowing that I’m the underdog in these final weeks. But if you know where to look, there are signs of hope. There are signs of hope, even in the most unexpected places, even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats. I can’t shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me. (Cheers, applause.)
I’m delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) Where’s Bill, by the way? Can’t he take one night off from his tireless quest to make the man who defeated his wife the next president? (Laughter.)
The man is a relentless advocate for the Obama campaign, and he has a subtle approach to making the case. When a reporter asked him if Senator Obama was qualified to be president, Bill Clinton pointed out, sure, he’s over 35 years of age and a U.S. citizen. (Laughter.) He was pandering to the strict constructionist crowd! (Laughter, applause.)
He’s also been hammering away at me with epithets like “American hero” and “great man.” And with all the cameras running, he warmly embraced me at that global initiative of his. My friends, this is nothing but a brazen attempt to suppress turnout among anti-Clinton conservatives! (Laughter.)
Finally, when Larry King asked President Clinton a few weeks ago, what was the delay, why he wasn’t out there on the trail for Barack, Bill said his hands were tied until the end of the Jewish high holidays. (Laughter.) Now, you gotta admire that ecumenical spirit. I just know Bill would like to be out there now stumping for Barack until the last hour of the last day. Unfortunately, he is constrained by his respect for any voters who might be observing the Zoroastrian New Year. (Laughter, applause.)
You know, some advocates for Senator Obama are less restrained in their enthusiasm, even in the media. (Inaudible) — he usually is at table 228, for example, was my old friend and green-room pal Chris Matthews. He used to like me but he found somebody new, somebody who opened his eyes, somebody who gave him a thrill up his leg. (Laughter.) And we’ve talked about it. I told him, maverick I can do, but messiah is above my pay grade. (Laughter, applause.)
You know, it’s going to be a long, long night at MSNBC if I manage to pull this thing off. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) For starters, I understand that Keith Olbermann has ordered up his very own “mission accomplished” banner. (Laughter.) And they can hang that in whatever padded room has been reserved for him. (Laughter.)
Seriously, Chris, if they need any decorating advice on that banner, ask Keith to call me so I can tell him right where to put it. (Laughter.)
So, you know, I have fun with the media, and we all know the press is really an independent, civic-minded and nonpartisan group — (laughter) — like ACORN. (Laughter, applause.) In case you haven’t been following my opponent’s get-out-the-vote campaign, ACORN is helping to register groups previously excluded, overlooked and underserved — second graders — (laughter) — the deceased — (laughter) — Disney characters. In Florida, they even turned up an ACORN voter registration form that bore the name of one Mickey Mouse. We’re checking the paw prints. Although I might let that one go, I’m pretty sure the big rat’s a Republican. (Laughter.)
Anyway, we all know that Senator Obama is ready for any contingency, even the possibility of a sudden and dramatic market rebound. I’m told that at the first sign of recovery, he will suspend his campaign and fly immediately to Washington to address this crisis! (Laughter, applause.)
All this will be for the voters to decide very soon. And though I do trust we can keep the turnout amongst the deceased and fictional voters to a minimum, I’ve come out on both sides of elections. And I’ve never lost my confidence in the judgment of the American people. In the military, they work pretty hard to impress the chain of command on your way of thinking. And one way or another, on the 4th of November, word will come down from the top of the chain, and Senator Obama and I will both receive our orders.
I don’t want it getting out of this room, but my opponent is an impressive fellow in many ways. Political opponents can have little trouble 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. It’s not for nothing that he’s inspired so many folks in his own party and beyond.
Senator Obama talks about making history, and he’s made quite a bit of it already. 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. Today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. And good riddance! I can’t wish my opponent luck, but I do wish him well. (Applause.)
Whatever the outcome next month, Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country, and I congratulate him.
In his own day, Governor Al Smith achieved great things as well and traveled a harder path than most any presidential candidate before or since. America will always remember the boy born in an old tenement on South Street in Brooklyn who was four times elected governor of this state, and the news boy and fish monger who went to St. James parochial school and, at his death, received an apostolic benediction from the Pope himself.
At the Al Smith Foundation and at the New York Archdiocese, you’re carrying on the spirit and work of this good man with your service to the poor, your comfort for the sick and needy, your belief in the dignity of life, especially your gallant defense of the rights of the unborn. I’m proud to count myself as your friend and ally. (Applause.)
With that, my friends, let me make way for my opponent, who tonight is making a comedy debut that I guess we could call the final test of this campaign. Now, a copy of the senator’s comedy routine was left on the table this evening.
And I have to confess, Your Eminence, I looked at it. (Laughter.)
Now, of course, it would be unfair and even a little unkind to put my opponent on the spot before he gets up here or to throw him off his game with unreasonably high expectations. (Laughter.) But I do need to warn you, ladies and gentlemen, you all are about to witness the funniest performance — (laughter) — in the 63-year history of this event! (Applause.) Let’s not add to the mounting pressure he must be feeling. (Laughter.) Just prepare yourself for non-stop hilarity, the funniest 15 minutes of your life or any other. (Laughter, applause.) I think he knows that anything short of that would mar the evening, insult our hosts — (laughter) — and perhaps even cost him several swing states. (Laughter.)
Senator Obama, the microphone is all yours! (Cheers, applause.)
Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you to Al and to Ann, to your Eminence, to governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg, to Senator and Mrs. McCain, to my wonderful colleagues, Senators Clinton and Schumer, to all the distinguished guests, there is no other crowd in America that I’d rather be palling around with right now. I’m sorry he couldn’t be here. I do send regards to my running mate, Joe Biden, or as Senator McCain has noted he now actually likes to be called Joe the Senator.
I was thrilled to get this invitation, and I feel right at home here because it’s often been said that I share the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Newman. But I have to say tonight’s venue isn’t really what I’m used to. I was originally told we’d be able to move this outdoors to Yankee stadium, and — can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns that I requested? I do love the Waldorf-Astoria, though. You know, I hear that from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian tearoom. It is an honor to be here with Al Smith. I obviously never knew your great grandfather, but from everything that Senator McCain has told me, the two of them had a great time together before prohibition. So, wonderful stories.
The mayor of this great city, Michael Bloomberg, is here. the mayor recently announced some news — made some news by announcing he’s going to be rewriting the rules and running for a third term, which caused Bill Clinton to say, “you can do that?” The President’s better half, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is here. Glad to see you made it, Hillary. I’m glad to see that you made it because I heard Chuck Schumer actually tried to tell you that we really did move this event to Yankee stadium. But I’ll tell you all from personal experience, Hillary Clinton is one of the toughest and most formidable presidential candidates in history. She’s broken barriers. She’s inspired millions. She is the — she is the primary reason I have all this gray in my hair now.
I am also glad to see that Senator Schumer is here, and I see that he’s brought some of his loved ones. Those would be the folks with the cameras and to notebooks in the back of the room. Of course, I am especially honored to be here tonight with my distinguished opponent, Senator John McCain. I think it is a tribute to American democracy that with two weeks left in a hard-fought election, the two of us could come together and sit down at the same dinner table without preconditions. Recently, one of John’s top advisers told the “Daily News” that if we keep talking about the economy, McCain’s going to lose. So, tonight I’d like to talk about the economy.
Given all that’s happened these past few weeks on Wall Street, it feels like an odd time to be dressed up in white tie, but I must say I got a great deal, rented the whole outfit from the Treasury department at a very good price. Looking around tonight at all the gourmet food and champagne, it’s clear that no expenses were spared. It’s like an executive sale meeting at AIG. But I don’t need to tell any of you that it’s been a scary time on the stock market with people losing their investments, their entire fortunes. It’s gotten so bad Bloomberg now has to take the subway. And while the collapse of the housing market’s been tough on every single home owner, I think we all need to recognize that this crisis has been eight times harder on John McCain.
You know, we’ve been debating a lot of these economic issues over the course of the campaign, but lately things have been getting a bit tougher. In the last few weeks, John’s been out on the campaign trail and asked the question, who is Barack Obama? Now I have to admit I was a little surprised by this question. The answer is right there on my Facebook page. But, look, I don’t want to be coy about this. We’re a couple weeks from an important election. Americans have a big choice to make, and if anybody feels like they don’t know me by now, let me try to give you some answers. Who is Barack Obama? Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor El to save the planet Earth. Many of you — many of you know that I got my name, Barack, from my father. What you may not know is that Barack is actually Swahili for ‘that one’. And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn’t think I’d ever run for President. If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it’s possible that I’m a little too awesome. One other thing, I have never, not once, put lipstick on a pig or a pit bull or myself. Rudy Giuliani, that’s one for you. I mean — who would have thought that a cross-dressing mayor from New York City would have a tough time running the republican nomination?
It’s shocking. That was a tough primary you had there, John. Anyway, anyway, that’s who I really am. But in the spirit of full disclosure, there are a few October surprises you’ll be finding out about in the coming weeks. First of all, my middle name is not what you think. It’s actually Steve. That’s right. Barack Steve Obama. Here’s another revelation — John McCain is on to something.
There was a point in my life when I started palling around with a pretty ugly crowd. I’ve got to be honest. These guys were serious deadbeats. They were lowlifes, they were unrepentant, no-good punks. That’s right. I’ve been a member of the United States Senate. Come to think of it, John, I swear I saw you at one of our meetings.
But I know senator McCain agrees that some of the rumors out there are getting a bit crazy. I mean, Rupert the other day, Fox news actually accused me of fathering two african-american children in wedlock. By the way, John, I’m just curious is Fox news included in the media? Because I’m always hearing about this love. Just curious. Then at one of these campaign rallies, someone in the crowd started yelling, “no-bama,” announcing to everyone in the room that I shouldn’t be the democratic nominee because there were far more qualified candidates. I really wish Joe Biden hadn’t done that.
But at least we’ve moved past the days when the main criticism coming from the McCain campaign was that I’m some celebrity. I have to admit that that really hurt. I got so angry about it I punched the paparazzi in the face on my way out of Spiago’s. I’m serious. I even spilled my soy chai latte all over my shih tzu. It was really embarrassing.
But in all seriousness, I’m so glad that I could make it tonight, and I’m honored to be among such wonderful public servants. I want to especially say a word of thanks to senator McCain. We are in the midst of a tough battle right now, and American politics at the presidential level is always tough, but I’ve 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, and I’m glad to be sharing this space with him tonight, as I am during the course of this nomination.
And before I close, I’d like to recognize one such servant not with us tonight, and that’s our good friend, Tim Russert. I know that Luke and Maureen are here and I know that Tim enjoyed these dinners very much, and I also know how much he would have enjoyed covering this election.
And I know that John and I would have been quaking in our boots preparing for our appearances on “Meet the Press.” And his absence is not just a personal loss for so many who knew and loved him but a profound loss for the country, and we continue to miss him very much.
You know — the fact that each October in the closing weeks of a hard-fought campaign, people of all political persuasions can come to this dinner and share a meal and honor the work of this foundation underscores the reality that no matter what differences or divisions or arguments we’re having right now, we ultimately belong to something bigger and more lasting than a political party. We belong to a community. We share a country. We are all children of God. And in this country, there are millions of fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters, who need us very much, especially now. We are being battered by a very serious economic storm, and for many Americans it’s only deepened the quiet storms they’ve been struggling through for years.
Beyond the walls of this hotel on the streets of one of the greatest cities in the wealthiest nation on earth, there are men and women and children who have fallen on hard times and hard luck, who can’t find work or even a job that pays enough to keep a roof over their heads. Some are hanging on just by a thread. Scripture says god creates us for works of service. We are blessed to have so many organizations like this one and the catholic diocese that perform these acts of god every day. But each of us also have that responsibility. Each of us has that obligation, especially now. So no matter who we are or what we do, what I believe is each of us in this room asks for and hopes for and prays for enough strength and wisdom to do good and to seek justice and play our small part in building more hopeful and compassionate world for the