John McCain has concluded a strange week of brush-back pitches against Barack Obama, dropping three different attack ads, each seemingly designed to scare up as much mainstream news coverage as anything else. The first, a blistering rebuke of Obama for failing to visit wounded troops at Landstuhl Air Force base during the return from his European swing, is undercut by, you know, a lack of facts on the ground.
The second ad — a weird poke at Obama’s celebrity, visually comparing him to both Paris Hilton (whose parents, ironically, are max-donors to the McCain campaign) and Britney Spears, i.e., “an empty vessel” — seems to suggest it’s a bad idea to support an American leader who might also be able to capture the imagination of anyone overseas. (Picking up on this assault on optimism, advocacy group MoveOn.org responded with an ad buy of their own, directed by actor Rider Strong, which mockingly presented hope as a communicable disease.)
Upping the strangeness quotient even further, McCain’s latest ad, titled “The One,” features out-of-context clips of Obama talking up his campaign as part of a movement greater than him, and then closes with a comparison to Charlton Heston’s Moses from The Ten Commandments, ceding, “Obama may be ‘The One,’ but is he ready to lead?”
To me, this isn’t so much a “kitchen sink strategy” as it is the farcical, kids movie version of this scheme, where plastic toys, sofa cushions and a blanket are thrown at a rampaging sibling in an effort to slow his or her momentum. The first ad was a bit scummy (though still fairly mild by the Karl Rove-ian standards of recent electoral politics), but mainly it’s just stupid; this belies the claims of high-road, issues-oriented outreach, and kind of underscores the arm’s-length disdain and condescension with which the McCain campaign has treated the Obama campaign. I know this, though: Treating hope as a piñata, and mocking or questioning as somehow insincere or dubious the optimism and sort of desperate desire to reconnect and repair that a lot of people — many of whom haven’t given two shits about a national political election in decades, if their lifetimes — feel is on a very basic level a bit despicable, and probably a bad political play, too. I know they’re running behind and don’t have the advantage of many intangibles, but this tack didn’t work out very well for Hillary Clinton, in case the McCain camp didn’t notice.