Thursday, July 31, 2008


Following Jesse's Advice

The New York Times takes note of the McCain campaign/GOP version of the Hillary Clinton "kitichen sink" strategy against Barack Obama.

Josh Marshall believes that there is a not-so-subtle racial implication by using Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in the "Celebrity" ad. He makes the comparison with the Harold Ford "Call Me" ad from 2006. Now, there may be something to that (though my erstwhile CNN colleague Jake Tapper isn't buying it). First, when connecting a black man with a white female, for whatever reason, making the woman blonde has a stronger impact. After all, the GOP could have also used darker-tressed Lindsay Lohan as an example of a female celebrity who has been "behaving badly." Indeed, Lohan has been more recently in the headlines than Paris has. Of course, using a shot of Hilton also creates a mental play on words with Obama's "visiting Paris" at the end of his European tour. Heh heh.

However, I think this celebrity ad goes beyond just raising the black man-white woman taboo in some voters minds. No, the ad subtly does what Jesse Jackson said he wanted to do to Obama. In a sense, this ad is designed to politically emasculate Obama. Jesse stated that he thought Obama had been "talking down to black folks." Republicans are, in a sense, saying that an arrogant Obama is talking down to all folks in seeming to make the race about him.

In using the classic political jiu-jitsu of using an opponent's greatest strength against him, Republicans want to suggest there is something discomforting about the public acclaim Obama is receiving. But, this argument could have been made with "hunky" male celebrities like, say, George Clooney. It could have been made with a controversial male celebrity like Tom Cruise. It could have been made with an annoying politically-active male celeb like Sean Penn. But, instead, it was made with female celebrities (who, yes, are also known for their sexual scandals). Aside from the black-white taboo mentioned above, this political attack makes Obama come across as a male bimbo...not simply an "empty suit" celebrity, but an effete, effeminate airhead who has no business getting involved in the political world. Simply put, this isn't really a "man." As Jesse suggested, the ad is designed to cut off Obama's nuts.

How effective would such an uber-message be?

We'll have to see. But, the Obama camp had better come up with a response more hefty than just saying the GOP is suggesting that he "doesn't look like all those other Presidents on those dollar bills." Politics is a contact sport and Obama had better figure out how to respond in kind.

And, inevitably, when he does, it will only be a matter of time before this campaign gets boiled down to what we thought it would be about from early on: The cocky, oversexed presumptuous black guy vs. the psycho-crazy old (like, really old) war veteran.

UPDATE: Filling in for Andrew Sullivan, Daniel Larison's analysis of the to-and-fro on the "Celebrity" ad explains why a campaign waged by two "character-candidates" will end up being one of the ugliest in history.

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