THE BLOG
09/21/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Coming from 'NYT' on Sunday: Why McCain's Attacks on Obama as 'Celebrity' May Backfire

In a piece coming this Sunday in The New York Times magazine, Matt Bai suggests that, despite recent gains in the polls, John McCain's charge that Barack Obama is a "celebrity" may, in fact, backfire. He titles his essay, "The Case for Cool."

The issue also feature a cover story on Obama's economic views.

In his article, Bai asks, "who's to say that Americans are misguided for craving a little cool in their candidates? ...The infatuation with star quality reflects, on some level, the yearning for the next Roosevelt....or Kennedy....some reformer with the dynamism and charisma to renew a dialogue at home and kinships around the world...

"It's curious that McCain would disparage the force of this undercurrent in American politics: after all, he was its beneficiary when he ran in 2000."

Obama and his chief strategist, David Axelrod, have "internalized the lessons of Reagan and Bush. Instead, it is McCain who has fallen into the classic Democratic trap of equating celebrity with emptiness and broad thematics with a lack of depth."

His silly Obama/Britney/Paris Hilton ad "may not help. For one thing, unlike Gore or Kerry, McCain has nevef been mistaken for a policy wonk, and he flubs important details with some frequency; it's not as if his command of substance makes Obama seem like a marshmallow by comparison.

"But the larger problem with campaigning against cool is that it seldom actually works. Too often, when you mock celebrity, you also seem to be mocking all the people who get to define celebrity--which is to say, American consumers. In a way, McCain's celebrity ad could be the 2008 version of Gore's infamous sighs. It says, If you really find this character compelling, then there's got to be something wrong with you, too."
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Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.