Video: McCain invokes '60s in new 'love' ad

updated 7/10/2008 3:14:24 PM ET 2008-07-10T19:14:24

Life is tough. And as John McCain and Barack Obama are learning, packaging their lives for TV ads can be tough, too. The bio spots that the two candidates recently unveiled reveal key vulnerabilities that each man faces as he tries to introduce himself to voters this summer.

McCain’s new ad, a 60-second spot called “Love,” is the more revealing of the two. It opens with a direct slap at the (increasingly irrelevant) anti-war movement of the 1960s; images of carefree hippies, Vietnam protesters and knitted ponchos flicker across the screen.

“It was a time of uncertainty, hope and change,” a narrator says -- a none-too-subtle poke at Obama campaign mantras. “The ‘Summer of Love.’ Half a world away, another kind of love -- of country. John McCain: Shot down. Bayoneted. Tortured. Offered early release, he said ‘no.’ He’d sworn an oath.”

It’s a… love-ly message, sure. But it’s a curious one as well. Given Obama's lopsided advantage among young voters, McCain’s path to victory this fall relies heavily on support from the very Baby Boomers his ad mocks as lip-locking derelicts.

McCain strategists may be calculating that those Boomers now reject the frivolity of their bygone youth and admire the sacrifices McCain made at that time. The campaign may be trying to contrast Obama as vaguely unpatriotic. And the ad certainly confirms that McCain intends to mine the divisions of that era for political gain, a reliable Republican strategy for the past 40 years.

Even so -- in the context of McCain versus Obama, the ‘60s have been rendered irrelevant. The ad unintentionally serves as a stark reminder that the presence of the first post-Boomer nominee (Obama turned 6 during the Summer of Love) neutralizes any discussion about where you were when Saigon fell. In fact, it’s precisely because Obama’s politics weren’t shaped by the anti-war and civil rights movements of the ‘60s that he appeals to so many independents and Republicans.

Ironically, the indirect reminder the ad delivers about McCain’s age may well undercut the appeal of the enormous sacrifices he made in Vietnam.

Still, McCain’s ad does effectively build one argument against Obama: “Beautiful words cannot make our lives better,” the announcer says. “Don’t hope for a better life. Vote for one.”

McCain’s recently retooled campaign staff has studied the successful strategies of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s failed campaign, one of which was to characterize Obama as a man of pretty words and little else. It proved too late for Clinton, but she did press that case effectively against Obama in early March, helping to end the run of primary wins he racked up in February.

That brings us to Obama’s new ad, “Dignity," which, fittingly, sums up the Democrat’s life in half the time. A narrator ticks off Obama’s impressive academic creds and a light menu of legislative feats for which the candidate claims credit from his days in the (state) Senate. But the jarring part comes next: “As president, he'll…” Huh? By the time this line rolls around, viewers can be forgiven for thinking they’re watching an ad for a first-time candidate for Congress, not a would-be commander in chief. Indeed, it’s an ad Obama could have run in his unsuccessful primary challenge to Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., in 2000 or his (U.S.) Senate bid in 2004.

Sure, men have been elected president despite thin resumes and little time spent on the national stage. But that’s not a line of defense Obama supporters are well advised to employ. The most recent examples -- John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush -- both carried prominent political family names, and each still won his race narrowly.

It’s a quandary for Obama. He’s working hard to introduce himself before his opponents do so for him, but in doing so, does he actually help McCain make the most salient arguments for his own election?

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.


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