11/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ad Wars: McCain Quotes Biden; Obama Quotes Reagan

"Hi, I'm John McCain and I approve this message. But, before we begin, I have to admit...I can't believe my opponent's running mate said this. Making this ad was so easy, I almost feel guilty. It pretty much wrote itself - literally."

That is what John McCain probably thinks about another misstatement from Senator Biden, this time guaranteeing there will be an international crisis once Obama takes office. McCain exploits this slip, using Biden's words against Obama in a new 30-second campaign ad. The following day Obama launched a two-minute policy commercial that outlined his tax, energy and education proposals. Although the ad clearly articulates his plans, the Obama team should have split this into three or four spots for more concentrated messaging.

McCain "Ladies and Gentlemen" Ad (October 25, 2008)

The commercial breaks down the following Biden quote from a stump speech: "Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama. The world is looking. We're going to have an international crisis ... to test the mettle of this guy. I guarantee you it's gonna happen."


The ad begins with a deep ominous voice saying: "Listen to Joe Biden. Talking about what electing Barack Obama will mean." Then we hear the voice of Biden with his words superimposed over the visual of an Islamofascist group marching through the streets, stirring up memories of hooded terrorists who have beheaded U.S. citizens in the past.


The ad superimposes the phrase "It will not be six months before" over a snapshot of battleships roaring through the ocean, followed by video of Hugo Chavez and the words: "the world tests Barack Obama." A tank then flashes onto the screen along with the words: "the world is looking" implying that rogue regimes eagerly await the election results, and if Obama wins, they will mobilize.


Then we see the devious image of a young girl crying as McCain tears a page from the Hillary Clinton playbook. In Hillary's "red phone" ad, she showed children sleeping to insinuate that your family would not be safe under an Obama administration during a national security crisis.


Mahmoud Ahmadinejadn, the President of Iran appears. McCain plays on an ongoing debate in which McCain has called Obama naive for agreeing to negotiate with Iranian leaders without preconditions.

Biden says: "I guarantee you it's gonna happen", and as the screen fades to black the narrator says: "It doesn't have to happen." This is a very cunning ending because McCain is attempting to use Bush's winning formula from the 2004 election by instilling the notion that voters can only trust Republicans on national security.

Obama "Four Years From Now" Ad (October 26, 2008)


Obama begins the commercial with a powerful question, a play on words from an old Ronald Reagan line: The question is not, Are you better off than you were four years ago? We all know the answer to that. The real question is Will our country be better off four years from now?

David Axelrod, Obama's lead strategist, has used this direct approach with many black candidates that he's represented over the years according to a recent article in the New Republic, because it's harder to buy into stereotypes as voters become more comfortable with a candidate. That is why Axelrod designed the ad to capitalize on Obama's personable style and make it feel as if Obama is sitting in your living room.

In this screenshot, Obama clearly spells out the benefits of his "rescue plan" so there is no confusion: If you have a job, pay taxes and make less than two hundred thousand dollars-a-year, you'll get a tax cut.


In this segment, Obama takes the wind out of McCain's argument that Obama will hurt small businesses: And I'll make low-cost loans available to small businesses. He also addresses working-class concerns by promising to prevent corporations from shipping jobs overseas.


Obama rattles off a laundry list of promises about healthcare costs, energy independence and child education. Obama wisely outlines how he will pay for these programs to placate viewer skepticism. He provides specifics such as withdrawing from Iraq, closing corporate loopholes, and rolling back Bush tax cuts.

Obama wraps it up with his consistent theme of unity that he has attempted to pound into the minds of voters for over a year now. We face real challenges, and they won't be easy to solve. But we can do it if we end the mindless partisanship...the divisiveness, curb special interest power and restore our sense of common purpose."

Although Obama has seen the McCain gimmick before, McCain's ad will resound because of the way it deftly uses frightening visuals to prey on the worst fears of Americans. Yet, the flip side of this strategy can also work for Obama. In 1964 LBJ used the "mushroom cloud" ad to portray Barry Goldwater as dangerous, exploiting Goldwater's off-handed comment about nuking Vietnam. The Obama camp might want to try similar medicine and run an ad with a clip of McCain singing: "Bomb-bomb-bomb...bomb-bomb Iran..." But it's unlikely that David Axelrod will take my advice because, as evidenced by Obama's recent ad, rather than rely on emotionalism, Team Obama will continue to take the revolutionary approach of focusing on real issues.