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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The New Normal: McCain's Desperate Ad Hours

Posted by: David Kiley, Business Week

The McCain campaign had adopted an ad strategy that has been dubbed “desperate” by Time Magazine political columnist Joe Klein. Klein was writing in response to this latest ad from McCain’s new ad/communications honcho Steve Schmidt.

Klein writes that a candidate airs tis ad only if: “1. You’re desperate.
2. Your Middle East policy has been superseded by events and abandoned by your allies. 3. You apparently have nothing substantive to say about America’s future role in the region and the world.”

“If you watched both Obama and McCain on the morning shows today, you saw one candidate who was at ease, confident but not flawless (Obama’s answer on the Surge still seems too grudging), and another who was tense and almost entirely negative. There used to be another John McCain—charming, open, unpredictable. I wonder where he went; the McCain who appeared on the air today seemed too much a scold, too little a statesman.”

Obama’s cancellation of a visit in Germany to visit wounded U.S. troops has been adequately explained: that his campaign was advised by the Pentagon that since Obama was on a campaign trip and spending campaign resources, it would be viewed as using the wounded as props whether cameras were allowed in the hospital or not.

This ad asserts a McCain campaign talking-point that Obama wouldn’t make time for wounded troops unless cameras were allowed to follow him, but did make time to work out at a gym. This, of course, is a lie. It’s a blatant lie. Steve Schmidt, a disciple of Karl Rove’s who worked on George W. Bush’s 2004 ad/communications effort, though, is playing the Rovian playbook that says that it doesn’t matter if it’s true as long as your target audience (non-college educated white working class voters) won’t bother to find out the actual truth, and believe that it “sounds like it might be a true.”

For the second time in a week the non-partisan takes McCain to task for a false ad [false, btw, is another word for lie].

And USA Today wrote an editorial about last week’s ad scam from McCain, blaming Obama for higher gas prices. The paper wrote: “Even by the elastic standards of political ads, this is more than a stretch. It’s baloney. It’s also a marker on the path toward the kind of simplistic, counterproductive demonizing that many expect will poison the fall campaign.”

What the McCain campaign doesn’t want people to know, according to one GOP strategist I spoke with over the weekend, is that they had an ad script ready to go if Obama had visited the wounded troops saying that Obama was...wait for it...using wounded troops as campaign props. So, no matter which way Obama turned, McCain had an Obama bashing ad ready to launch. I guess that’s political hardball. But another word for it is the one word that most politicians are loathe to use about their opponents—a lie.

This is what some people are calling the Hannity strategy. Right wing nut-muffin Sean Hannity employs a slick strategy of repeating canards very quickly over and over, day in and day out, which aren’t challenged by his TV co-host Alan Colmes or by any of his radio listeners. By relentlessly repeating falsehoods day after day, the theory goes, it becomes embedded in the media. There is truth in this. In 2004, the Bush campaign ran an ad and daily repeated that John Kerry was a flip flopper, running a Kerry clip with the Democratic candidate saying he voted for an $87 billion military appropriation before he voted against it. It sounded bad when ripped out of context. Kerry voted for it in committee, and then voted against in on a floor vote when the bill included giveaways to Halliburton he didn’t support.

The distortion took on a life of its own, parroted by mainstream media including Chris Matthews, and even the Tom Brokaw and the late Tim Russert. It is a case study in how effective advertising can work when it is done relentlessly and consistently…even if its untrue. Hannity enployed the same strategy conflating a passing acquaintance between Obama and former unconvicted Weather Underground activist William Ayers with "an association" with Obama...for months. he talked it up every day. He finally goaded ABC's George Stephanopoulus to ask Obama about it in a televised debate. It didn't matter that Obama has nothing that could be construed by a thinking person like "an association" with Ayers. He raised the question just by repeating it daily.

Welcome to the new McCain cum Schmidt cum Rove campaign.

I've written good things about McCain's ads in the past, and I expect I will again if they ever return to a level of at least being for grown-ups.

By the way, lest Hannity try and pretend that he isn’t a tool of virtually any GOP campaign, it’s worth noting that he echoed almost point for point the actual daily McCain campaign talking points on Obama's trip last Friday night, including his “takeaway from the Obama trip” that he had time to work out in a gym but not visit the troops in the hospital. Hannity went into the tank again the same night that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that the White House does, in fact, provide Hannity and other Fox News and on-air talent their daily and weekly policy “talking points.” We knew that, but it’s nice to hear someone admit it who was in on the transaction.

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