John McCain's presidential campaign is making a big mistake with its television ads that continue to portray Barack Obama as, essentially, too much of a good thing. They reinforce the framing that Obama is a rock star, a mega celebrity, a dignitary on the world stage, and then expect that simply by calling our attention to the contrast between that persona and the image of a stodgy and reserved President who sits in the Oval Office making important decisions all day, they can sway the voters toward McCain.
Don't get me wrong - I'd rather have a boring President who truly serves the needs of the people than a rock star who gives us a lot of charm without any substance (or worse, spends eight years actively harming the country and its citizens). But this move by the McCain campaign represents a total lack of insight into their audience. For better or worse, the current voter population does get excited about the hype that goes with the release of a new movie (as one McCain rep alluded to with Obama's recent overseas trip coverage). They do come out in droves to celebrate someone who offers excitement, newness, change. They do pay ridiculous amounts of money to see celebrities and rock stars.
Few of us, even in our most reflective and insightful moments, are totally immune to the gravity of star power.
In that sense, these ads aren't really all that negative, they're just whiny. The Obama campaign can continue to let them roll in without saying much beyond, "gosh, I guess Senator McCain agrees that Barack Obama is a really big deal!" and almost call it a day.
Of course, the bottom line here is that these two presidential candidates are trying to win our affections and votes through tactics that have little or nothing to do with how effective they'll be as President (and as some often remark, it's questionable whether we want someone who could do what it takes to get elected President to actually be effective). Ironically, I think McCain seems to be practicing that theater a little more than Obama right now, but Senator Obama is also in danger of seeming too far away from his roots as a community activist taking on the substantial and day-to-day problems of his neighbors.
Either way, I don't think modern campaigning has room for ads that explain how amazing your opponent is, unless you've got a really, really good punch-line. The McCain campaign needs to come up with one quick, or try another approach altogether.