Peter Cunningham joining Arne Duncan at Education Department

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WASHINGTON–In 2006, in the wake of a dustup between then Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, Peter Cunningham–moonlighting from his position as a Chicago Public Schools spokesman–penned a hilarious parody for Obama that was a hit at the Gridiron Club, “If I Only Had a Brain” from the “Wizard of Oz.” The refrain was “If I only had McCain.”

With McCain leading the opposition on the stimulus bill, it may be time to dust-off the lyrics.

Cunningham is following his former boss, Education Sec. Arne Duncan, to Washington. Cunningham will serve as an assistant secretary for communications and outreach in the Education Department.

Cunningham is well connected in the Chicago political world, where his communications firms clients included the public schools, David Axelrod’s firm and Ariel Investments, founded by Obama friend and fund-raiser John Rogers. He also worked as a speechwriter in Mayor Daley’s city hall.

March 13, 2006 Monday

Final Edition

SECTION: NEWS; Lynn Sweet; Pg. 28

LENGTH: 586 words

HEADLINE: Obama in prime form at Gridiron Club roast

BYLINE: Lynn Sweet, Special to The Chicago Sun-Times


“And most of all, I want to thank you for all the generous advance coverage you’ve given me in anticipation of a successful career. When I actually do something, we’ll let you know.”

— Closing lines of Sen. Barack Obama’s remarks at the Gridiron Club’s annual dinner Saturday night.

It’s a given in political humor that self-deprecating jokes are the best.

On Saturday night, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) cleverly wielded self-effacing humor — punctuated with a ditty he sang with a velvet voice — at the annual Gridiron Club dinner. To find out whether he had sex with his wife, Michelle, before his speech, well, you’ll have to read my blog at

Besides aiming barbs at himself, Obama, in the spirit of the Gridiron tradition to “singe, not burn” the politicians who attend the white tie affair, took shots at President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Freshman Obama was perfectly willing, indeed eager, to confront how preposterous his swelling fame is, given that, well, to paraphrase the man himself, he actually has yet to accomplish much in Congress.


The well-received big-stakes speech — CBS anchor Bob Schieffer said on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, where Obama guested, that Obama was the “absolute star” of the show — was mostly crafted by David Axelrod, Obama’s Chicago-based media consultant.

Obama made use of his recent dust-up over ethics reform with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) with a precious parody of “If I Only Had a Brain” from “The Wizard of Oz,” where the refrain was, “If I only had McCain.” It was written by a presumed moonlighting Chicago Board of Education spokesman, Peter Cunningham. Helping to spike the brew was a former Clinton speechwriter, Jeff Nussbaum.

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