Campaign Ad or Ad Campagin?

12/14/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Progressives, halt your celebration! A moment of your time, please. We can go back to our Kleenex-clutching Obama acceptance speech replay-a-thons in a moment. There is still one thing left to learn from Campaign 2008. Who will teach us the lesson that we should take with us into 2012? Sarah Palin, of course. Sarah Palin and Applebees.

Let's not focus on all the things we knew about Palin. Let's focus on all the things we didn't know. At issue here is the small flood of info about the Vice Presidential candidate, both public and private, that were leaked after the election ended.

It's true, some of these claims about Almost Vice President Palin were fabricated. Brilliantly, brilliantly fabricated. But let's not waste time in the flagellant posture of a seasoned intellectual, and adopt the erect stance of the rhetorician: nine out of ten nutso claims made about Palin were actually true.

Forget about that witchdoctor exorcism in an Alaskan megachurch. It seems this candidate couldn't identify the three countries in NAFTA, one of which is the one she was trying to become Vice President of. Forget that she was duped by a Canadian morning radio jockey into thinking that the Pepe Le Pew-sounding guy at the other end of the line was Nicolas Sarközy. Imagine the towel-clad tantrums she threw when she saw the press clippings, attacking her staff like some sort of 50-foot teenager, too powerful to silence.

What we should learn from this news is that the McCain-Palin campaign was the well-oiled deception machine that we remember fondly from 2000 and 2004. Republicans have been making smarter moves than Democrats for a while now, and they've been doing so because they've been treating candidates not as political entities, but as products to be sold. With a good ad campaign any product is palatable.

Before we were sold Applebees Restaurant, and now we've ended up starving outside The Ritz. This year, Americans seem to be savvier cultural consumers than they were before. Either that, or the product being sold to us was too crazy even for the country's best ad team. Again they tried to sell us Applebees, but even with all the framing and posturing, something about the product just didn't smell right this time.

What makes this election season so scary is that although McPalin didn't smell right, and although we decided not to buy into the ad campaign this time around, none of us had the slightest clue how dangerous the product actually was. That's because ad campaigns craft a message, and crafting a message has absolutely nothing to do with informing you about the product. Vioxx! McGriddle! Thalidomide! I can't believe I've lived this long without them!

To keep us from making some unhealthy choices in the future, presidential campaigns need to be read with the eye of the consumer. Then we won't be stuck with a president dangerous enough to require a recall.