Friday, April 4, 2008

I don't get their not getting it.

Steve Benen, among others, doesn't get this video:

Yes, it's slightly odd, but I find it effective, because it's odd. First of all, McCain is an old, white man, who's been in the Senate longer than some voters have been alive. He's running at the head of a tired, white party, when the country is looking forward to change. If he runs traditional, bland bio ads, people will think of him as a traditional, bland old white guy. In fact, he would end up looking just like Bob Dole -- a bland white guy who was in the Senate forever, who was presented as something of a "maverick," who was a war hero, and so on, and who got the nod to run for president because of some vague sense that it was "his turn" rather than because of anything he was or stood for that the country really needed. Dole is the kind of candidate a party runs when it knows it will probably lose, and has nothing better to throw out there, anyway (Mondale and Stevenson are Dem examples of this archetype). McCain has got to do something to differentiate himself from that image, to escape from his blandoldwhiteguyness, and running slightly offbeat ads isn't a bad way of doing that. The ads are also interesting, keep your attention throughout (how many bio ads can do that?) and have a chance at generating buzz all by themselves. And they take the focus off policy issues -- the Republicans' huge weak point -- and put it on McCain the man, and McCain the man, as we have been told incessantly for the past 10 years, is the World's Greatest Human Being, which in the end is almost certainly going to be the only positive message he has to offer. That's the upside. Now, what's the downside?

In a word, nothing. The real risk in running ads like these -- the risk in doing anything unusual in a campaign -- is that it invites ridicule and allows the candidate to be portrayed as foolish and out of touch, as an alien. Is Chris Matthews going to ridicule the ads? David Broder? The people who call themselves reporters who ride around in the back of McCain's bus, slack jawed, while he regales them with stories of his POW heroism? Will any Beltway heavyweight? Not a chance. For McCain that simply is not possible -- he's the salt of the earth, a regular guy who tells great stories, many of them self deprecating, a war hero, a maverick, a moderate, a straight talker, and so on. It's always the Dems who are the aliens, and McCain isn't a Dem. Those ads are, not just good in themselves, but a sign that the Republicans understand exactly what they are up against this cycle, and have formed a strategy to overcome it. The Dems, and smart bloggers like Benen, should be taking notice and combating this stuff. Benen is usually quite good, but his response to the ad -- seemingly scratching his head at its oddness -- demonstrates the problem the left has generally. Any Dem running an ad like this would be attacked as a loon by the right, and subsequently laughed at by the "MSM". Scratching his head in bemusement seems the best Benen, or any other lefty with any kind of voice, can do by way of an attack. We're in for a long, painful campaign.