Fawlty Towers and West Wings

The unusual team of pollster Frank Luntz, John Cleese and Richard Schiff talked the presidential contest at a Milken Global Conference panel in Beverly Hills on Tuesday night, and this was roughly the tone of the event:

CLEESE: Americans “are always talking about being the greatest democracy in the world and yet you don’t know how to do it.” He cited the 2000 Florida fiasco, the 2 1/2 year long presidential contest, the “poison” of 30-second ads and the low voter turnout.

Now living in Santa Barbara, Cleese noted, “My dentist, the greatest dentist in the world, he doesn’t even bother to vote.”

LUNTZ: “I didn’t know the British had dentists.”

Much laughter.

Cleese, who has praised Barack Obama throughout the campaign, and Schiff, who stumped for Joe Biden in Iowa, were on the panel to talk about the role of entertainment and politics in the race. And while the session had its serious moments — Schiff spoke of the ability of celebrities to draw attention to issues and candidates — they quickly were drowned out by sharp quips.

Cleese said Obama was “like my older brother” while Hillary Clinton “is the aunt no one can stand.”

CLEESE: “He’s run a more harmonious campaign than this person who claims all this experience.”

LUNTZ: “So did Custer.”

But Cleese did hit back at Luntz,  attacking Fox News for its penchant for “guilt by association” and imagining what they would come up with about John McCain were he not the GOP nominee: A POW in Vietnam, surrounded by all of those Communists…

LUNTZ: Who would Toby Ziegler on “The West Wing” vote for?

SCHIFF: “Ultimately he’d go for the idealist,” i.e. Obama.

LUNTZ: Who would Basil Fawlty vote for?

CLEESE: “Basil wouldn’t vote for Hillary, because he’s married to someone like her. He wouldn’t vote for Obama because he’s black. So I’d guess he’d go for the war hero.”

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