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Before the Dog Knows You’re Dead


WHERE THE ELITE MEET TO EAT: Poor Barack Obama. Just as it appeared he was starting to shed the “elitist” jacket that Hillary Clinton has been working so desperately to hang on him, Santa Barbara’s very own John Cleese had to go deliver the kiss of death.

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Cleese, who actually resides in Montecito, where the county’s tax base lives, is now famous for being famous. Before that, however, he was famous for being one of the more brilliant members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the wildly hilarious comedic troupe that managed to burst through the ossified mantle of England’s educational upper-crust back in the day. Cleese, it turns out, has now volunteered his speech-writing services to Obama, whom he described as “brilliant,” a term that in the English movies I’ve seen seems to be used interchangeably with “cool,” “hot,” and “pretty nice.” It’s not clear if Cleese ever made this offer to the Obama campaign directly or whether it was merely overheard during a bar conversation that seemed otherwise wholly devoted to more serious topics, such as the chances of the Bristol City Football Club going all the way. The news was first broken by the Western Daily Press, an English paper known for its astute and exhaustive coverage of the team’s chances. I, for one, have been keenly disappointed that Obama hasn’t made more of Cleese’s offer. We could use a break now and again from all of Obama’s relentlessly brilliant and soaring rhetoric. A few jokes, expertly crafted to seem off the cuff, might help. And so long as you’re being funny, no one can ever criticize anything you say-no matter how mean or off the wall-without opening oneself to the lethal charge that one cannot take a joke.

Perhaps Obama would not find himself presently skewered as an arugula-grazing elitist-formerly known as “floppy-necked quiche-eaters”-if he had John Cleese come up with a few zingers to show how many small-town residents have turned to gods and guns, though not necessarily in that order, out of bitterness over circumstances. But now that the elitist label has been applied, Cleese certainly won’t help Obama unstick it. If anything, Cleese would make matters worse. After all, Cleese speaks with a British accent. That’s bad. Making matters even worse, he’s smart, funny, and rich. The only thing missing is the title “Lord” in front of his name. This being Santa Barbara, he could always just insert it if he wanted to. No one would care if the title were authentic; they’d just want to know how much it cost and where they could buy one, too.

It would be nice if Cleese played a prominent role within the Obama campaign, if only because of all the government pork Santa Barbara would get if Obama makes it to the White House. Personally, I’m in the market for a cozy government sinecure-looking for high pay and little work-and his connections might help. Beyond that, he’s said to be a genuinely nice guy-brilliant, actually-and easily one of the more community-minded celebrity citizens we’ve got in these parts. And he’s yet to get sued for blocking neighbors’ views by building mega-mansions, becoming embroiled in a crossfire of allegations of nanny-gate sexcapades, or precipitating the meltdown of what’s billed as the oldest daily paper in the State of California. Add to that the fact that Cleese is not Oprah, and the man is just about perfect in every way. But unfortunately for America, Santa Barbara, and my dreams of a cushy sinecure, Joe Sixpack ain’t part of Cleese’s repertoire, so he’s nothing but poison to the Obama camp.

But, really, as if anyone who runs for president is not by definition a card-carrying elitist. Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill reported raking in a cool $109 million in the past 10 years. That’s sufficient to insulate anyone from the sticker-shock induced by the high price of gas. What are you supposed to call people, like the Clintons, who make $20 million in a given year? Hedge fund populists?

And what about John McCain? His wife is an heiress worth well in excess of $100 million. But unlike Clinton and Obama, McCain isn’t releasing his tax returns. So we can’t say for sure to what stratospheric demographic he belongs. But we do know that perpetuating the biggest tax cuts for the richest of the rich-as McCain advocates-won’t solve what’s ailing our economy. Compared to these two, Obama is barely even a piker. He and his wife pull in only about $1 million a year.

If the Obama camp is pretending the Cleese offer never happened, it is only too thrilled to accept the endorsement and support of Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Among the voters of the great State of Pennsylvania-for whose hearts and minds Hillary and Barack are now fighting-the Steelers are not so much a sporting event as they are a theological experience on par with the rapture. This makes Rooney akin to the Pope, though without the sexual-abuse baggage. No wonder Obama is closing the gap as the voting day approaches.

Don’t get me wrong; I like Rooney alright. And I like his Steelers, too. But from where I sit, he’s not nearly as funny as John Cleese.

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