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Friday, August 01, 2008
Six degrees of stupid: A half dozen reasons why the new McCain ad is dumb (in addition to it just being dumb)
Maybe it's because it's summer. Or maybe John McCain's communication team is using a lot of college sophomores, but first the Paris Hilton ad, and now the new iteration of the Mac attack, run the risk of coming off as silly, petty, and just plain weird to a public that's trying to do something quite serious: pick a president. First, take a look at the new McCain attack ad, called "The One" (hint, they used Charlton Heston's Moses this time, instead of Paris and Britney... and thanks to Dana Milbank, it also uses the cropped misquote of Obama's statement to House lawmakers this week.)

The ad may be the McCain camp's lame attempt to have some fun, as the candidate insisted today, but there are at least six pretty significant problems with it for McCain.

1. It looks frivolous. McCain has been looking desperate for quite some time, so this is probably the least of his problems. But now, with these new ads, he's starting to look like a man who's wasting the public's time and money, because he doesn't seem to really know what he wants to say. The campaign literally changing the attack message on a daily basis is so jarring, and so confusing and incoherent, that it's hard to take any of the attacks seriously, let alone find any substance in them. Over time, the idea could become ingrained in the public mind that McCain is little more than a desperate old man frittering away millions of dollars on silly, desperate ads. Not exactly the steady and heroic war veteran stamping out pork barrel spending and reforming Washington that McCain wants us to buy into.

2. The relentless attacks could turn off independent voters. By being so relentlessly negative, literally every day, without putting forward a positive agenda of his own (apparently, his only agenda is drill, drill, DRILL!!!! (and rake in the Big Oil campaign cash...) McCain risks looking like a man who will literally say anything to become president. Many analysts say that's not a good idea in a year when voters want a change in the way Washington business is done.

3. It's not presidential. As they begin to pile up, the sophomoric, random and erratic nature of the relentless McCain attacks are making him looking more and more un-presidential. Far from mounting a coherent, relentless attack on his opponent, McCain seems to be careening wildly from angry swipe to juvenile taunt. He seems unclear which tack to take, so he basically takes them all. Whether or not his campaign is simply trying to have some fun, as the candidate insisted today in Florida, the truth is that picking a president is serious business, and man of John McCain's age and supposed gravitas shouldn't be associating himself with ads that look like something that was produced in a college dorm. It's beneath the dignity of a U.S. Senator, let alone a 72-year-old man. The ad is so juvenile, one blogger at the Dallas Morning News actually thought it was a fake.

4. The ads highlight Obama's strengths/span> (without highlighting any of McCain's.) Both of the latest McCain ads do something you're really never supposed to do in advertising: they highlight the positives and appeal of the competition. In the Paris Hilton ad, Obama is shown being adored by hundreds of thousands of people. In the latest, he is shown making inspirational speeches, and then compared directly to Charlton Heston as Moses (two people most Americans probably don't not like.) Wouldn't it be smarter to show Barack falling down, or looking silly (or for you Republicans out there, "scaaaaaary?") I know Barack doesn't do silly looking things, but if you can't find video of him looking bad, here's an idea: don't use video of him at all. Next, these clods will put out a Youtube spot showing Obama sinking that 3-point shot in Kuwait with the troops, with a mean sounding voiceover. Earth to McCain: Americans LIKE celebrities. Case in point: ask your new campaign chief strategist about his former client, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I hear he's got a great new job in Caleefornia.

5. Bad timing. The McCain camp released their bad SNL knock-off on the same day the new jobless numbers came out, showing the U.S. economy shed another 51,000 jobs last month, making it seven straight months of payroll declines, something the Obama camp didn't waste time pointing out:
"It's downright sad that on a day when we learned that 51,000 Americans lost their jobs, a candidate for the presidency is spending all of his time and the powerful platform he has on these sorts of juvenile antics," said spokesman Hari Sevugan. "Senator McCain can keep telling everyone how 'proud' he is of these political stunts which even his Republican friends and advisors have called 'childish', but Barack Obama will continue talking about his plan to jumpstart our economy by giving working families $1,000 of immediate relief."

Last, but certainly not least:

6. The ad highlights McCain's problem with evangelical voters.
This may be the biggest problem of all, though it might not make sense to the more casually religious. Even among those who support McCain, some Christians are going to find this ad offensive. Yes, yes, we all know that Charlton Heston isn't really Moses, but he was playing him in "The Ten Commandments," the film that was shown. Comparing Barack Obama to Moses, and doing so mockingly, at that, is probably the stupidest thing you can do if you're John McCain, and evangelical voters already don't trust you. McCain launched his national political stardom in 2000 in part by attacking two pillars of the evangelical movement, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, as "agents of intolerance." He has wavered about being and Episcopalian, and then a Baptist. He took on two new evangelical friends this election cycle, only to toss them under the bus when they said some ... um ... inconvenient things. And then today, responding to criticism of the mocking use of a revered religious figure in his silly, sophomoric ad, McCain, today, said this:
“This is a very respectful campaign. I’ve repeated my admiration and respect for Sen. Obama. That clip is of Charlton Heston. It’s a movie…I really appreciated the movie and I appreciated Charlton Heston’s magnificent acting skills as I saw it, but it’s a movie.”

Yeah? Really? Well here's a sampling of comments on the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog thread about the ad. Keep in mind that most of the readers of the Murdoch-owned Journal, are Republicans:
As a Christian, I find this ad OFFENSIVE! It is NEVER HUMOUROUS to compare ANYONE to the Lord.

McCain has lost my vote, THIS has gone TOO far!
Comment by carol - August 1, 2008 at 4:40 pm


Not to mention blasphemous.

I am in disbelief. This ad makes me want to throw up.

McCain better start praying for forgiveness.
Comment by Jennie - August 1, 2008 at 4:41 pm


especially, another Christian!

I am speechless.
Comment by carol - August 1, 2008 at 4:41 pm


As a believer of God, I must say that this is not funny at all for the Christian community. The Lord is not a game!!!
Comment by Carl29 - August 1, 2008 at 4:48 pm


Absolutely disgraceful.

McCain should apologize immediately, not only to Obama, but to the millions of Christians who have seen their sacred beliefs mocked for political purposes.
Comment by Andrew - August 1, 2008 at 4:49 pm


As a Christian I am horrified that even McCain and his disciples of dirt would stoop this low.

Whose religion, will he mock next? Do you want to give him the power to inflame a possible world crisis with his frat-boy Humor?
Comment by Mary Mc - August 1, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Now, of course, there were lots of positive comments about the spot as well, but I wouldn't be surprised if McCain winds up pulling this ad, not because of media criticism or criticism from the Obama campaign, but because it winds up hurting him with the Christian base.

Meanwhile, over at the Observer, writer Steve Kornacki has a different view:
In short, the McCain of 2000 no longer exists, and thanks to issues like Iraq, couldn't exist even if his campaign made a conscious effort to resurrect him. Running a 2000-like campaign would preserve McCain's reputation and win him plenty of favorable post-election write-ups from his old media friends -- but it can't win him the election.

What can win him the election, as sad as it is to say, is the kind of campaign he is now resorting to. McCain's aides have privately told the press that they see the fall race as a referendum on Obama. They are right. This campaign is not about hordes of undecided voters weighing the pros and cons of McCain and Obama; it is about hordes of undecided voters who are inclined -- both because of his party label and his personality -- to vote for Obama, but who still have trouble imagining him as America's commander in chief. If Obama can remove their doubts, he will win going away -- just as Ronald Reagan did in 1980, when he won the masses over in a debate a week before Election Day. If he can't, then those voters will default to McCain, the "safe" old warrior. And it will have little to do with whether they approved of the tone of his advertising.

McCain has clearly figured that if he emerges victorious in an election that is Obama's to lose, he will have his entire presidency to repair whatever damage is done to his reputation. He has also determined that his current strategy is his only chance of winning. He's probably right on both counts.

For the record, I agree that running negative is McCain's only option. But there's negative, and then there's negative... The kind of campaign McCain is running is nasty, without being coherent, focused, presidential, or smart. If he wins the election, it won't be because of silly ads like these. It will be because a majority of Americans simply can't bring themselves to vote for Barack Obama, and that, I think, sadly, will come down to the two things the candidates both claim they don't want to talk about in this campaign: age, and race.


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