Why McCain Must Resort to Mudslinging

Writing in New York Magazine, John Heilemann explains that McCain is running this type of campaign because, while mudslinging will damage McCain’s brand, it may be the only way he can win:

The strategy behind all this isn’t hard to discern: Drive up Obama’s negatives and render him unacceptable to pivotal voting blocs. Thus the depiction of him as too young, too feckless, and too pampered to be president. (In almost every shot in the McCain ads, Obama is smiling flashily, whereas McCain is pictured as weathered, sober, staring hard into the distance—a clever bit of jujitsu, using Obama’s pretty mug against him.) Thus the portrayal of him as precious, self-infatuated, and effete: “Only celebrities like Barack Obama go to the gym three times a day, demand ‘MET-RX chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars and bottles of a hard-to-find organic brew—Black Forest Berry Honest Tea’ and worry about the price of arugula,” wrote campaign manager Rick Davis in an e-mail announcing “Celeb.” And thus the emphasis on Obama’s rock-star persona, designed to engender envy and contempt among the swath of Middle America for which hipness is no virtue but a sign of pretension.

The racial undertones of this assault are subtle but undeniable, as Obama himself suggested when he asserted last week that his opponents are trying to make voters “scared” of him because he “doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency.” They’re most glaring in “Troops,” which features footage of Obama sinking a three-pointer in Kuwait, despite the fact that the shot took place at a military base, which undermines the ad’s argument. But the spot’s deeper aim is to foster an unconscious simile: Obama as a blinged-up, camera-hungry, NBA shooting guard, Allen Iverson with a Harvard Law degree. Am I reaching? Consider this: Would the ad have featured footage of Obama on a golf course draining a hole-in-one? “No, it wouldn’t,” laughs a GOP media savant. “The racial angle is the first thing I thought of when I saw that ad. It fits into the celebrity stuff, too.” (For McCain, that impolitic, pro-Obama Ludacris track was manna from hip-hop heaven.)

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