I've been sick in bed with nasty bronchitis for five days. So, I have watched about 50 hours of day-time television, including many hours of Fox News and probably five or six hours of political attack ads. No kidding. What's more, I'm in Colorado, a major undecided state. The political discussion is depraved. Many people really believe Obama is a Muslim. It would be a test of McCain's soul if someone were to ask him about that tonight. Sam tells me to watch the polls (the state polls, not the national ones) and stop watching TV, but I think he is wrong. Voters in swing states -- and this appears to be the mother of all swing states -- are treated to a nearly endless barrage of political advertising and discussion. In the first three days of my sickness, most of it was negative, disgraceful and cheap. Then McCain switched to totally negative. (Politico.com says it is only "mostly negative" because he has left the "Original Mavericks" ad on TV.)
A week ago, an Obama supporter asked David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, why the campaign wasn't hitting back and reminding people of the Keating Five and John McCain's Senate trial for corruption. Alexrod demurred. Yesterday, it became clear that the campaign had a plan. They rolled out a 13-minute, high production-value video on its own sophisticated web site:
One day after Politico reported the McCain decision to go entirely negative, the site went up. It was preceded by a trailer sent to Obama's list of nearly 3 million donors with a teaser that the full movie would be available a few hours later. As of this morning, there have been more than 1 million hits on the YouTube site in addition to an undetermined number on this direct, keatingeconomics site. I don't know if it will reach the undecided audience, but it will certainly fire up Obama's base and give it new talking points and a strong message to send to wavering friends. It reminds me of how far-sighted this campaign has been and how different from other campaigns with which we have worked in the past. Many of you may have read Ryan Lizza's New Yorker magazine piece about Obama in his early Chicago days. It deeply upset the campaign (they excluded Lizza from the Obama Iraq trip) because it detailed Obama's willingness to play the Chicago political game. Sam and I loved it. It gave us hope that Bob Schrum's bad judgment from 2004 would not be repeated in 2008. The cliche for this is 'you don't bring a knife to a gun fight'. And sure enough, they had a loaded gun. It is probably safe to assume that McCain's ties to the Russian oligarchs and the gambling industry and his running mate's crazy husband and church among other juicy topics are in waiting. So, if Sarah Palin and John McCain want to play the Ayers/Wright game, I bet we are ready.
Now I have a modest suggestion. Take a look at:
Then imagine this three minutes cut up into 30-second spots: Iraq, Baghdad, Iran (this one has the double advantage of making Lieberman look a fool); Katrina; economics twice; and tax cuts. With enough money, it could be a hit TV miniseries: "The McCain Nightmare". But this may be too rough for Obama. Where are the 527's now that we need them?
My second suggestion is to go straight at the Maverick tag line. My friend Danny Menaker suggests James Garner, a good Democrat, make an ad pointing out that the character he played was in the old west -- not in the last century, but the one before, an era of gunslingers and gamblers. We don't need either of those in the White House now. We need someone of proven intelligence and calm demeanor. That is Barack Obama. Another way is to get Terrellita Maverick, an 82-year-old direct descendant of the original Samuel Augustus Maverick whom the NYT wrote about on Sunday to make an ad. Imagine her voice, slightly quivering with outrage, reminding people that her great granddaddy (or whatever) was the original Maverick and he was called that because he refused to brand his cattle. 'John McCain carries the brand of GWB on his voting record and it should be stamped on his forehead.' Here she could wink at the audience and add 'He ain't no Maverick.'
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