Thursday, October 2, 2008

Florida's Jewish vote, a laughing matter

By DeWayne Wickham

If Barack Obama manages to win Florida in next month's presidential election, he may owe as much to Sarah Silverman as to Bill Clinton.

The former president went to the University of Central Florida on Wednesday to tout the candidacy of Obama, who snatched the Democratic Party presidential nomination from Clinton's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

His willingness to campaign for Obama in a state Democrats have won just once in the last 40 years - that was when Clinton himself won re-election in a landslide in 1996 - is expected to boost the Illinois senator's chances of winning Florida's electoral votes.

But Silverman's effort may have even more impact. She's the potty-mouth Jewish stand-up comic who once told Maxim magazine, "I'm not trying to offend people - I'm trying to surprise them."

Well, she certainly must have surprised the campaign of Republican John McCain with "The Great Schlep," a Web video urging young Jews to pressure their grandparents in Florida to vote for Obama.

"If you knew that visiting your grandparents would change the world, would you do it? Well, of course you would," Silverman says in the opening moments of the four-minute 22-second video that is as irreverent as it is funny. "I'm making this video to urge you, all of you, to schlep over to Florida and convince your grandparents to vote Obama."

To win in Florida, Obama needs a sizeable share of the white vote, though not necessarily a majority. He also needs to make a strong showing among black and Hispanic voters. His support from Jews is expected to be a key factor in how he does with whites - a point not lost on Silverman.

"If Barack Obama doesn't become the next president of the United States, I'm going to blame the Jews," she says on the video. She then riffs about how elderly Jewish women and young black men share a fondness for track suits, Cadillacs, "and bling, and money and jewelry and stuff."

"You don't have to use facts, use threats,"Silverman advises young Jews.Grandparents who vote for Obama can count on another visit this year from their grandchildren, she says. And those who don't? "Let's just hope they stay healthy until next year," she jokes.

Now that's funny. It's also the kind of Jewish humor that only a Jew can get away with.

I don't know why McCain hasn't come up with his own slapstick humor to counter Silverman's effort. Surely there must be one Jewish funnyman or woman willing to produce some laughs - and votes - for the Arizona senator.

If not, he ought to ask comedian Dennis Miller, a "born-again Republican," to use his biting political satire to get Floridians laughing at Obama rather than voting for him.

I don't know what the outcome of this presidential election will be, but it seems to me that McCain is giving up too much ground to ultimately prevail. Maybe he has a "straight face" strategy to go with his "straight talk" campaign.

Given the advantage Obama now enjoys in polls in critical states like Florida, McCain shouldn't discount the power of laughter to help land him in the White House.

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