James Poniewozik puts it extremely well: John McCain is now trying to “Britney-fy” Barack Obama. Note the images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton at the beginning of this ad:
The ad represents a turning point for the McCain campaign. This is the new narrative — “He’s the biggest celebrity in the world!” — and you’re going to hear a lot of it, in one form or another.
Earlier this month, McCain demoted his former campaign manager, and elevated Steve Schmidt in his place. Schmidt is a Karl Rove protégé.
The ad is the first time we’ve seen the effects of that change in McCain’s personnel. And it’s straight from the Karl Rove playbook.
One of Rove’s defining tactics is, Attack your opponent at the point of his greatest strength. How counterintuitive! Usually, we look for a weakness that we might be able to exploit, but Rove turns such thinking on its head.
Q. Why would we call attention to our opponent’s greatest strength?
A. In order to tarnish it and perhaps drain it of its power.
In this case, the strength is Obama’s ability to attract 200,000 admirers to hear him speak in Germany. McCain/Schmidt/Rove want to equate Obama’s mass appeal with mere, substance-free celebrity — akin to Paris Hilton or Britney Spears.
He’s too popular! Poniewozik comments:
You can make Obama into Britney Spears, or John Kerry, or Malcolm X. I’m not sure you can make him into all three at the same time. (Is there a template in American culture for an Ivy-league-snob, black-militant, out-of-control former Mouseketeer?) …
But the dominant forces in the McCain campaign have decided that their best chance, right now, is to try to turn an Obama strength into a weakness: perhaps to appeal to the kind of people who see the Yes We Can video and feel looked down upon by the cool kids, perhaps to get the Obama campaign to shift gears away from roof-raising spectacles, perhaps to tamp down the “Obama is a celebrity” buzz in the media by suddenly making that seem like an attack.
Rove himself made the first foray in that direction back on June 23:
Even if you never met him, you know this guy. … He’s the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.
(photo shamelessly lifted from Adam at Barack To the Future)
Rove’s jibe isn’t so far removed from the Britney-fication of Obama. You can imagine a celebrity in place of the guy at the country club: the star quarterback or the Hollywood leading man.
Is the characterization accurate? You be the judge. Can you imagine Britney serving as the editor of the Harvard Law Review? Can you imagine Paris sitting down with the editorial board of the Jerusalem Post without a single advisor to guide her, as Obama did last week, to discuss the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics?
Of course you can’t! But who gives a fig for archaic distinctions like truth / falsehood? Perception is the bread-and-butter of politics. Hence another of Karl Rove’s defining tactics: If you repeat a lie often enough, it will begin to be perceived as a valid perspective.
The “celebrity” ad caused one of McCain’s former associates to turn on him:
John Weaver, for years one of John McCain’s closest friends and confidants, has been in exile since his resignation from McCain’s presidential campaign last year. With the exception of an occasional interview, he has, by his own account, bit his tongue as McCain’s campaign has adopted a strategy that Weaver believes “diminishes John McCain.”
With the release today of a McCain television ad blasting Obama for celebrity preening while gas prices rise, and a memo that accuses Obama of putting his own aggrandizement before the country, Weaver said he’s had “enough.”
The ad’s premise, he said, is “childish.”
“John’s been a celebrity ever since he was shot down,” Weaver said. “Whatever that means. And I recall Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush going overseas and all those waving American flags.” …
“For McCain to win in such troubled times, he needs to begin telling the American people how he intends to lead us. That McCain exists. He can inspire the country to greatness.”
He added: “There is legitimate mockery of a political campaign now, and it isn’t at Obama’s. For McCain’s sake, this tomfoolery needs to stop.”
A reputation is a terrible thing to waste. McCain has a reputation for integrity, but it isn’t going to survive the campaign that he’s waging.
This “tomfoolery” isn’t going to stop, because McCain has embraced his inner Karl Rove.
Victory before honor! McCain = McSame old politics!