McCain’s Pop Politics

Just happened to hear about the new internet-only McCain attack ad (does he have any other kind?), depicting Obama as a wannabe Messianic figure. To me, like most McCain campaign attempts to use humor and popular culture to criticize Obama it comes off as a bit clumsy. We’ve already seen Obama compared to Paris and Britney, and now it’s apparently Moses. I don’t really buy the idea that the Paris and Britney comparison is intended as racist. Instead, the ad seems to be a calculated attempt to depict Obama as vacuous, an empty suit, and the Moses comparison is obviously meant to imply that Obama has delusions of grandeur (i.e., Obama will part the Red Sea or at least the sea of red ink that is our budget deficit).

Both ads are clearly trying to create a relatively consistent narrative about Obama as celebrity or as an empty icon, but both oddly compare him to fairly conservative public figures (Paris Hilton’s grandparents have, in fact, donated to the McCain campaign and Britney famously admonished us to support President Bush; Moses is played by conservative icon, Charlton Heston). The Moses ad, in particular, seems oddly incoherent to me, just a set of random, loosely associated images. Still, it’s interesting to see the McCain campaign tentatively entering the arena of pop politics. What scares me is that it might be working.

Update: My original analysis here is bothering me a bit.  When I said that the comparison was “not intended” as racist, I now feel like I pretty much got it wrong.  In part, I was interested in the social class associations (Obama as elitist, etc), but obviously that doesn’t account for the specifics of the Spears and Hilton comparisons.  I was also trying to sort through a mental comparison with the far more overt Harold Ford “Call Me” ad from a couple of years ago, but I think that Bob Herbert and  Melissa McEwan more or less get this one right.  I still find the ad utterly incoherent ideologically.  And I worry even more that we’re going to see even more ads like these.  There is an interesting discussion of this ad at The Washington Post, where a number of election strategists analyze the implications for both campaigns.

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