"In contrast to the vitriolic rants you'll find on some political blogging sites, Palmer gives in-depth analysis and commentary." --Dan Cook, The Free Times


The Obama Infomercial

Barack Obama bought 30 minutes of time last night on seven television stations to present an infomercial detailing his policy proposals and his vision for where he would like to take the country. The ad focused mainly on the economy, but also touched on energy independence, education, and health care. John McCain has been trying to shift the discussion back to national security and experience over the past few days, but this ad helps refocus the nation's attention on the economy, to McCain's disadvantage.

The ad talked about many issues, but was particularly striking not for what was said, but rather what was not said. This ad did not mention John McCain or Sarah Palin at all. And only a passing reference was made to President Bush by talking about "the last 8 years." Rather than criticize his political opposition, Obama kept his message positive by speaking directly to the American people and relating their stories.

It is no coincidence that the families highlighted in the ad were from battleground states (such as New Mexico, Missouri, and Ohio) and that several of the public figures who endorsed him on camera were from red and purple states (Claire McCaskill from Missouri, Tim Kaine from Virginia, and Bill Richardson from New Mexico). Even a retired general and the CEO of Google gave testimonials in support of Obama, no doubt an attempt to appeal to military veterans and small business owners. The ad also showed an interview with Michelle Obama and the family laughing together. This helps humanize the Obama family which is still battling perceptions of being elitist, aloof, and foreign. This ad was a direct appeal to Middle America.

The diversity of the families and endorsers featured in the ad (Whites, Blacks, and Latinos) was a subtle reminder of Obama's message of consensus and unity. The commonality of their concerns (plants closing down, not being able to make mortgage payments, arthritis and health care costs) showed that regardless of what they look like and where they came from, they are not alone in their experiences and should work together to overcome these struggles. This is a direct contrast to some of the rhetoric that has recently come from McCain-Palin rallies, such as "pro-America" parts of the nation and "real Virginia."

No new policies were introduced in the ad, but Obama's rhetoric may have struck a chord with conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans when he talked about personal responsibility, the importance of parents taking a more active role in their children's education, and how growing the economy was more important than growing the size of the government. While it might not be a fair characterization, Democrats are not seen as the party of personal responsibility. (This does not mean Democrats don't care about personal responsibility; it's just that Republicans were able to seize this message and brand it as "family values" and "rugged individualism.")

Transitioning from the ad to the live campaign rally in Florida was an appropriate coda that seized on the momentum the ad had been building and connected viewers to the enthusiasm of his rally and the message that accompanied it. It is not known how much this will translate into campaign donations or calls to volunteer, but it was very shrewdly done. And having the late night rally with Bill Clinton a few hours later only ensured that the only thing people would talk about last night was the Obama campaign and not McCain's interview with Larry King.

Needless to say, John McCain was not thrilled with this ad and revived his criticism of Obama for breaking his promise regarding accepting public campaign financing. It is true that Obama did not keep his word regarding this, so McCain is right to call him out on this. CNN's Campbell Brown also rebuked Obama for this broken promise earlier this week. The Obama campaign may counter by reminding voters that their average campaign contribution is $86 which they could say is an example of "public financing," but the fact remains that for whatever reason, Obama did not keep his word.

The problem for McCain, however, is that after the many arguably out of bounds attacks he and his campaign made on Obama this fall (i.e., wanting to teach children about sex before they learn how to read, accusing him of "palling around with terrorists," and calling him an advocate of socialist policies), it seems unlikely that voters will care much about McCain's hurt feelings. And as far as broken promises are concerned, McCain broke his promise to run a dignified campaign. That broken promise may be more of a political liability for McCain than Obama's broken promise is.

And it must be stated that underneath McCain's ridicule of Obama's infomercial lies a bit of envy. The cash-strapped McCain campaign would love to have 30 minutes of uninterrupted airtime to get their message out and dominate the headlines of the 11pm and morning news cycles. There are not a lot of news cycles left before the election, so at the very lest, Obama's 30 minutes of fame were able to crowd McCain and his message out just a little bit longer.

Regardless of how this election ultimately plays out, Barack Obama has clearly redefined the role of political advertising, grassroots organization, and campaign fundraising. Look for future politicians in both parties to closely study his campaign structure and media strategy because the traditional way of politicking seems increasingly antiquated and insufficient.

The risk of this ad is that it may make Obama seem presumptuous to some. After all, 30 minutes is a long time to spend uninvited in America's living rooms. However, I would venture that for any voter who is not a plain old curmudgeon or permanent skeptic (Sean Hannity, for example, called it "just bad" and "almost embarrassing at times"), this was good television that was well produced, visually appealing, and able to draw the audience into his message. While it probably won't significantly alter the electorate in terms of polling, at the very least, it reminds soft supporters of Obama why they like him, soft supporters of McCain why Obama might be a better choice, and Obama supporters in general of their responsibility to turn out the vote next Tuesday. Obama has already passed the threshold in terms of looking like a president because of his debate performances. This video just confirms it.

2 comment(s):

Khaki Elephant said...

What do you make of the Obama camps refusal to release information concerning their campaign contributions (e.g., names and actual amounts attributed to that "average of $86," foreign currency counts, the actual individual contribution amounts from individual online credit card donations). They're awfully secretive about their financing.

Anthony Palmer said...


I'm conflicted on disclosing who contributed what. I can understand why there's a public right to know in the event of illegal contributions or fraud. But at the same time, there's a privacy issue. Remember, you can donate up to $200 without having your name be listed by the FEC on its website. I've donated to several political candidates, but never donate more than $200 for this very reason. There's a huge privacy concern there. I'm sure many journalists do the same thing. What if McCain had to reveal the names of his campaign contributors and it was revealed that Hillary Clinton had contributed $150? It's her right, but imagine the firestorm.

I'd err on the side of privacy.

Copyright 2007-2010 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.