Negative ads, fatal errors from the McCain campaign

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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.

7 thoughts on “Negative ads, fatal errors from the McCain campaign

  1. I think I heard somewhere that Dennis Kucinich is running for president. Maybe you should vote for him.


    Of course if you'd really like to discuss the kind of "excitement, newness and change" that Obama is going to bring to the country, we could always check out his voting record in the senate. Maybe he ought to stick with the rock-star gig after all.

    I love that Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton are making cameos in political ads, btw.

  2. Even better is Paris Hilton's response.

    I just watched "The One" ad. It's horrifying. It looks like it's edited to mimic Christian tv, perhaps to appeal to an audience that watches evangelist programming. Even worse, it's racist. It samples of Obama's rhetorical style that are reminiscent of African-American preaching, and basically implies that as a weakness, or worse, a threat.

    Also, in "Celebrity," the words "foreign oil" show up in big letters, with his image on the left, right beside the word "foreign." It smacks of Orientalism .

    This is much worse than attack ads, and worse than whining. I heard a comment by McCain on NPR a week or so ago. He said he didn't want race t be part of this campaign season. He sort of chuckled nervously when he said it. But McCain's folks are bringing it in with these sly little ads. Hopefully voters will see though it. I don't know if they will, but, as I learned from watching the LOTR trilogy this week, there's always reason to hope.

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