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July 31, 2008

Obama: The Would-Be Emperor with No Clothes

John McCain has a new ad out about Barack Obama.

Somewhat predictably, the new campaign spot is sending McCain supporters and Obama supporters alike into paroxysms of panic and mouth-frothing fury. Much to the delight of Obamites, former McCain campaign supporter John Weaver has dubbed the new ad "childish":

"There is legitimate mockery of a political campaign now, and it isn't at Obama's. For McCain's sake, this tomfoolery needs to stop."

Ramesh Ponnoru piles on:

McCain's recent ads are juvenile.

And with that pronouncement, we can safely say that we have once more come full circle. It's deja vu all over again: the traditional weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth so beloved of our conservative brethren in Christ has commenced. The good news is that we will undoubtably live through it, as we did the unbearable certainty that George W had unequivocally (in the irrefutable judgment of Those In The Know) "blown" the 2004 debates with the suave and oh-so-debonaire John Foregainst Kerry, who as we all know went on to win the November election by a landslide, thus ushering in a four year reign of Progressyve Terror that continues to send all "real" conservatives running for the nearest bottle of neat double scotch to this day.


If you have not already done so, may I politely suggest that you view the ad?

Whatever it is, the McCain ad is not childish, or juvenile. In fact, it attempts a very good point (and moreover, one you'll find echoed by the media over and over; even by many of Obama's supporters). The point is simply this: Obama is a stuffed shirt whose almost uncanny ability to project a telegenic, appealing, charismatic image far outweighs anything he has ever done, or even promises to do.

The problem with the McCain ad is not that it was childish, but that it failed to get the intended message across efficiently.

The intended message was that Obama is an empty suit whose fame owes more to the cult of personality than to his achievements or his plans for America. Subliminally "selling" this message by juxtaposing Obama's picture alongside that of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton reposes waaay too much confidence in the intelligence of the average swing voter.

Sadly, it also allows Obama supporters to project their many and varied neuroses upon John McCain:

I note with interest today, John McCain's new tactic of associating Barack Obama with oversexed and/or promiscuous young white women. (See today's new ad and this from yesterday.) Presumably, a la Harold Ford 2006, this will be one of those strategies that will be a matter of deep dispute during the campaign and later treated as transparent and obvious once the campaign is concluded.

But what I'm most interested in today is the new meme the McCain campaign has been pushing for the last few weeks that Obama is presumptuous, arrogant and well ... just a bit uppity. Ron Fournier picked the ball up early in his reporting for the AP. And John King was pushing it over the weekend on CNN. Is it arrogant or above Obama's station for him to meet with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve? If I'm not mistaken he is a sitting United States senator and also the presidential candidate of the Democratic party. Such meetings are actually the norm.

Woo ha, John McCain. Josh Marshall has got you in check, baby. Where have we heard this line of 'reasoning' before? Ah yes, from the perennially above-the-fray candidate himself:

“Nobody thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face. So what they are going to try to do is make you scared of me,” Obama warned, “You know he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all of those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

Yessir, there is nothing like a little honest dialog about race relations in America to dispel all that wrong/bad tension between blacks and whites. Because the Other Side, you know, they operate from the Politics of Fear. And the only way to combat the Divisive Fear and Hate perpetrated by those hateful, divisive fear mongers who keep dragging race into this campaign even though I'd prefer not to mention it is by constantly reminding you of Fear and Race. Because we all know that any criticism of Me during a hotly contested political campaign can only be based on 400 years of simmering racism.

It couldn't have anything to do with the way Obama and his supporters have chosen to sell him to the American public:

Hi, my name is John. I'm a hopium addict.

It's true. Yes, I'm a journalist. And that led to the harder stuff. Then one day, Barack phoned the Tribune and called me "bro."

Now, I'm addicted to hopium.

So if you're addicted to hopium, or you're worried that your loved ones might fall prey to its power, then please click on this link for the hard left's Moveon.org commercial for Barack Obama

"I never thought it could happen to me," says a shaggy blond-haired surfer dude in the ad, a guy who should have carried a bong.

"I've been living with it for a while now," says a young woman, talking as if she'd contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

That's how they discuss hopium. Like a disease. But they have nothing to be guilty about. It's not some disease that cranky old Republicans can't get because they stopped having sex.

It's hopium.

Once you see it, you won't be the only one addicted to hope. You'll all become addicted—you, your family and friends, even your pets, except for various crustaceans in your aquarium, which are immune. But you and yours are not immune. You'll all become hope-heads, together.

It's America's most powerful drug. Once on hopium, you won't care if Iran has nukes or if taxes are raised during a recession or whether Obama keeps flipping and flopping on everything from foreign wiretaps to withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Who cares? Relax. Hopium is your friend.

It's not a rational appeal. It's an appeal to emotion and that's the message the McCain ad should have gotten across, but signally failed to convey. There are a lot of things the McCain campaign is having trouble articulating, but that's not surprising.

Barack Obama is so good at manipulating appearances, so adroit at packaging and delivering a polished, manicured image, that it can be difficult to pierce the veil; to see what lies beneath the glitzy exterior. Astute observers (not all of them conservatives) have no trouble pinpointing Obama's Achilles Heel. It's his overweening arrogance, his presumption:

Barack Obama has long been his party's presumptive nominee. Now he's becoming its presumptuous nominee.

Fresh from his presidential-style world tour, during which foreign leaders and American generals lined up to show him affection, Obama settled down to some presidential-style business in Washington yesterday. He ordered up a teleconference with the (current president's) Treasury secretary, granted an audience to the Pakistani prime minister and had his staff arrange for the chairman of the Federal Reserve to give him a briefing. Then, he went up to Capitol Hill to be adored by House Democrats in a presidential-style pep rally.

Along the way, he traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual president's. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities, which included a fundraiser at the Mayflower where donors paid $10,000 or more to have photos taken with him. His schedule for the day, announced Monday night, would have made Dick Cheney envious:

11:00 a.m.: En route TBA.

12:05 p.m.: En route TBA.

1:45 p.m.: En route TBA.

2:55 p.m.: En route TBA.

5:20 p.m.: En route TBA.

The 5:20 TBA turned out to be his adoration session with lawmakers in the Cannon Caucus Room, where even committee chairmen arrived early, as if for the State of the Union. Capitol Police cleared the halls -- just as they do for the actual president. The Secret Service hustled him in through a side door -- just as they do for the actual president.

Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, "This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for," adding: "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."

As he marches toward Inauguration Day (Election Day is but a milestone on that path), Obama's biggest challenger may not be Republican John McCain but rather his own hubris.

Over at NRO's The Corner, Peter Kirsanow makes the most astute and dead-on observation I've seen regarding this campaign: Obama doth protest too much:

According to ABC News Sen. Obama told supporters in Springfield, Missouri today that the GOP's strategy is to scare voters: "So what they are going to do is make you scared of me. You know he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like those other presidents on the dollar bills." It's Sen. Obama who repeatedly refers to these themes. ( Apparently, now both GOP leadership and their bitter, gun-toting constituents are racist). If the GOP really wanted to scare voters they would simply threaten to replay all of Sen. Obama's insufferable statements, accumulating rapidly by the hour.

But even Kirsanow misses something vital - the reason why Obama keeps harping on the "they'll try to make you scared of me". Hint: it's not just a race thing. It's a manliness thing too - when even your supporters are hailing you as "our first woman president", perhaps it ought to occur to the McCain campaign that constant attempts to portray yourself as "blacker than thou" and "scary" might just reveal a tad bit of oversensitivity related to certain... shall we say... identity issues?

As I noted some time ago, the key to beating Barack Obama is to pierce that bubble of pretension and inevitability with humor:

I don't know. Could you work the words "fear", "afraid", "scary", and "black" in there just a few more times, Barry? Because I'm "afraid" voters might miss the point.

You know, that you're... like, totally ... black. And the bad, scary Republicans want us to be afraid of you. Because you're so ... black. Even though you're half white. Which we're not supposed to talk about, because that would be focusing on race and you were so hoping we could get beyond that, I know. Damned Republicans. If only they'd quit bringing up the fact.

That you're black. And we should fear you.

Odd tactic, for a man liberals keep saying is so likable and non-threatening he may well be our first woman president. The looming menace must express itself in a disarmingly feminine, non-threatening way.

Which is why the Republicans have to keep reminding everyone of your essential Blackitude and scariliciousness. It's subtle, man. Under the radar, sub rosa, float like a butterfly sting like a bee .... BAM!!! That's what makes you dangerous. You're a dangerous black man, with an Ivy League education. You use words like numchuks.


Voters like a good joke, and the only way to criticize someone like Barack Obama and get away with it is to make it seem like a joke. The key is, it has to be funny and it has to be true.

Dana Milbanks did a fantastic job of parodying Obama's presumption in the Post the other day. If the McCain campaign has a brain in its collective head, it will sit up and take notice. John McCain has a very quick wit and impeccable comedic timing, whereas humor is Barack Obama's weak point.

That's the message the McCain campaign needs to get across: simple, direct, and devastating. It's not that Obama is too inexperienced to be president, but that he presumes too much. That message is more likely to resonate with an electorate we're constantly being told has been alienated by what they perceive to be the arrogance of George Bush. A guy who keeps assuming the trappings of an office he has yet to be elected to, is already stiff-arming the press in ways even they admit the White House would never dare to and from all appearances has begun to believe his own hype is not bringing the kind of change America seeks. Nor does he have any business running the world's largest superpower.

Update: quote of the day, via Grim, who (as usual) has some great links and a few pithy observations of his own about the post-racial candidate's inability to stop talking about race:

I imagine that we'll see a lot of this kind of thing if Obama is elected President. And perhaps the best reason to vote against Obama is to spare the country an administration that reflexively characterizes any criticism as racist.

Yep. That pretty much says it all. Martin Luther King envisioned a nation that would one day be able to look past skin color and focus on the content of a person's character. So far, Obama's campaign seems determined to remain blissfully content-free and answer any questioning of his character with reflexive accusations of racism.

No candidate, be he black, white, or pink with purple polka dots, gets to do that. In America, you still have to earn the vote.

Again, not the kind of change I seek.

Posted by Cassandra at July 31, 2008 07:17 AM

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If you have not already done so, may I politely suggest that you view the ad?

I wasn't going to (because I don't tend to watch political ads since they're all about "I'm good, my opponent is bad" and don't really tell you anything you don't know), but since you asked nicely, I did.

To scream and moan about that ad is foolish. It's dull more than anything else. And again, if you didn't already know Sen. Obama is going to raise taxes and oppose drilling, you're a moron.

As for the Fear and Race bit, I seriously believe he's setting himself up for a BIG fall. Just like Sen. Kerry's "Don't Question My Patriotism!", he's merely inviting people to do so. Whyever would the Rethuglicans need to remind people Sen. Obama is black? Is anyone who cares going to NOT notice? Of course not. And anyone who DIDN'T notice (all those visually impared Klan members I guess) only need to listen to Sen. Obama to find out.

No, you're exactly right Dear Hostess. The best way to counteract this meme of Fear and Race is ridicule. I REALLY hope Sen. McCain calls him out on this in their first debate. Just slams him to the floor with it.

Posted by: MikeD at July 31, 2008 10:11 AM

I ran a better campaign for Student Counsel President back in high school. Fixating on Obama's lack of substance doesn't matter when McCain's own message is a complete muddle. THe sooner McCain picks a Veep to focus the campaign in some sort of direction, the better his chances of attracting the undecided voter after labor day.

Posted by: spd rdr at July 31, 2008 10:34 AM

That hopium stuff is much better than crystal, Cass.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 31, 2008 10:39 AM

Cass, most people vote the same way they shop - on emotion, not on logic. When a marketing company sells you a product, they sell benefits (emotion), not features (facts). This is why Obama will win in November. His opponents (you among them) are imagining that they can sway people by reciting facts or appealing to logic. It's not going to happen.

Obama will win because people are angry with the Republicans and what they have wrought in the last 8 years, and because he and his organization have done a masterful job of marketing the Obama brand. Short of a nuclear-powered mistake of gargantuian proportions, he'll win in November.

Frankly, as long as Republicans keep thinking that they can hurt him by pointing to a lack of substance, they're spinning their wheels and accomplishing nothing, which, speaking as a Democrat, is fine by me.

The only way to beat Obama in the Fall is to have a candidate that can generate the same kind of emotional impact that Obama can, and you guys don't have one.

Posted by: Jeffrey at July 31, 2008 01:01 PM

Except that your candidate of vast emotional appeal is running even with Mr. Stuffypants. As I've said before, McCain's support is at rock bottom -- it won't go down. Obama's middling numbers are based on that emotional appeal you mention -- and whereas McCain's supporters won't get less enthusiastic about him, Obama's very well could.

The Ballad of the White Horse answers this well:

And his faith grew in a hard ground
Of doubt and reason and falsehood found,
Where no faith else could grow.

Belief that grew of all beliefs
One moment back was blown
And belief that stood on unbelief
Stood up iron and alone.McCain's support is iron in that way -- because it is founded on reasons, not emotions. Obama's may blow away.

It may not, of course: but as we have known since the Greeks, the chorus is fickle.

Posted by: Grim at July 31, 2008 01:15 PM

I think, too, Jeffrey, that there are two kinds of people in this country.

Those who will elect an unknown quantity based on some vague proffer of hope and change and those who want something more substantial. That's an emotion too.

And a rational reason. It can be packaged both ways. It will be very interesting to see what happens in November. I honestly don't know what the result will be. I do know it's interesting that even his supporters are laughing at him already.

And not a good sign.

Posted by: Cass at July 31, 2008 01:21 PM

The Britney/Paris/Barak ad is pretty effective, given a concerted effort to tie him to empty–suit–ism. When I first watched it, the visceral reaction was to think of what you probably thought, that it was his celebrity.

But as I thought about it this morning, I realized what was going on. I was trying to figure out a connection between the three. First connection was that they were all famous for being famous — but that’s not right.

Britney was very popular before nose–diving after a terrible (very public) relationship. Paris was famous for...porn. And Obama is famous for...well...something. But he sounds great when he talks, right?

As I think about it now, it seems the McCain camp didn’t really get the empty–suit celebrity message across all that well. But something else that may be out there might be just as damaging. That people will associate Britney/Paris with Barak.

That’s about as effective a message as the RNC could put out.

Posted by: Mac at July 31, 2008 01:28 PM

I don't know what the result will be either, Cass. If I had my way, the entire process would be re-designed to a short issue-oriented debate season (maybe 2 or 3 months) leading to one nationwide primary and then a general election to follow 60 days later. The end.

Posted by: Jeffrey at July 31, 2008 06:37 PM

Fine sentiment, Jeff, especially considering your political leanings this season. What better way to conceal your candiate's bona-fides vis a vis the office he or she seeks than to limit exposure and debate!

But the Law of the Land is a bit stickier: You can't bridle political speech and the Soveriegn States are free to set their own primary schedules, and fund them as they so wish.

Damned federalism.

Posted by: spd rdr at July 31, 2008 07:39 PM

Spd_rdr, among western democracies we have an insanely long election season. Most of the civilized world can decide who to vote for in just a few months. Why do Americans need 2 years?

Posted by: Jeffrey at July 31, 2008 09:15 PM

Grim, while you're correct about the polls presently, my suspicion is that there is lingering anger among the Clinton democrats which I believe will dissipate after the Democratic convention. If, the numbers don't start to shift in Obama's favor then, then I'll be worried - but not now.

Posted by: Jeffrey at July 31, 2008 09:22 PM

By all means, don't worry. :)

Posted by: Grim at July 31, 2008 09:26 PM

"You know, he doesn't look like all of those other presidents on the dollar bills."

You got that right. But throw a big white curly wig on his head, and now we are talking.

Posted by: man riding unicycle naked at August 1, 2008 10:19 AM

But throw a big white curly wig on his head, and now we are talking.

Dolly Parton would *not* be amused...

Posted by: BillT at August 1, 2008 10:46 AM