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August 4, 2008

McCain’s Bad Ad Problem


Did you see John McCain’s controversial new ad last week, the one where he bashed Barack Obama, but then had the facts of the ad called into question? The answer to that question shouldn’t be “yes” or “no” – it should be, “which one?”


McCain, or in some cases the Republican National Committee, have released anti-Obama ads seemingly every day of the last two weeks. McCain did little else memorably for the entire month of July. And while political ads, as a medium, have never been known either for fairness or honesty, it’s hard to remember any candidate putting out so many bad ads in such a short period of time.


First came a 30-second spot, called “Pump,” which addressed high gas prices and, in a curious confusion of cause and effect, asserted that gas prices are rising “because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America.” As “Obama” chants fill the soundtrack, we are taught who to blame.


This argument is bizarre, to say the least. It’s one thing to assert that domestic drilling would, at some point in the undetermined future, lead to lower prices at the pump. But what McCain is doing is blaming already existing high gas prices on one senator out of 100. There are many, many factors that led to the present prices, but Obama’s position on a bill that hasn’t yet come to a vote is pretty clearly not one of them.


Obama’s trip overseas led to other goofy ads, starting with an RNC spot featuring one young German – out of the 200,000 there – saying that his “friends in America who are Marxists” are working for the Democrat’s candidacy. But the trip – specifically its German leg – also led to an even more loathsome McCain ad.


In this one, Obama is accused of having “canceled a visit with wounded troops,” because he wasn’t allowed to bring video cameras. The real reason for the cancellation, it turned out, had nothing to do with cameras, but rather Pentagon rules over campaign activities taking place on military bases.


Obama has, in fact, met with troops numerous times, both during the trip and stateside, and the footage in the ad itself of the candidate playing basketball has him doing so, yes, with the troops. The ad has been dubbed false by ad-watchdog columns in several newspapers, as well as FactCheck.org.


If only that were the end of it. This week, BusinessWeek’s Brand New Day blog quoted a GOP strategist as saying the campaign actually had a second ad all set to go, if Obama had in fact gone ahead with the visit, accusing him of “using wounded troops as campaign props.” It’s sort of hard to gin up false outrage when we know the campaign was prepared to gin up equally false outrage had Obama done the exact opposite thing.


But perhaps most vacuous at all was a spot, called “Celeb,” that called Obama “the biggest celebrity in the world,” as images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton flash by. Then the announcer asks, “Is he ready to lead?”


The implication, of course, is that the candidate is lacking substance, and is just as vacuous as the two celebutantes. It’s a comparison that would only make sense if Britney, say, had been elected president of the Harvard Law Review, or Paris had taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago.


Not that Obama is even their candidate. Britney, in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” said of Dubya that “I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that.” As for Paris, I’m not sure of her political views, or if she even has them, but the Los Angeles Times reported that her parents have contributed the maximum to McCain’s campaign. I’m also certain that Paris is opposed to the estate tax.


These ads aren’t just unfunny, dishonest and shabbily produced. They’re not likely to convince anyone of anything, and they fully contradict McCain’s preferred “Straight Talk” persona. McCain would be wise to show voters why they should elect him – rather than go down the path, once again, of unfairly smearing his opponent.  


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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