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I am vacationing off the coast of Sicily where internet access is rather spotty (and where no sane person spends much time online anyway). But once I experienced John McCain’s “The One” attack ad I immediately put down my octopus-hunting harpoon and started taking notes.
By the time Charlton Heston began doing his Moses shtick I realized I was in the presence of one of the biggest Faith and Values stories of the campaign. So please permit me a few reflections as I sip my Malvasia (BTW: how’s the weather in DC?):
The Strategy: A certain professional football coach–whose name I refuse to pronounce–has fashioned a storied, if not controversial, career out of doing the following: making opposing quarterbacks discover that the things they once felt comfortable doing they can no longer do without incurring tremendous risk.
A similar set of tactics, I think, is at play here. Senator Barack Obama, as some of you may have noticed, absolutely owns the religious card. He effortlessly delivers soaring monologues filled with scriptural allusions. Rendered in churchly cadences, his rhetoric mongers hope and electoral good will far and wide.
The McCain people, I surmise, would like to put a stop to that. With this commercial they try to condition voters (and the media?) to roll their eyes every time Obama “goes there.” Thanks to “The One” an image of a goofy Obama/Charlton/Moses casting a spell over the sea and swarms of liberal dupes will pop into the heads of Obama’s auditors when his rhetoric gets too highfalutin.
The next time he enthuses about faith on the campaign trail, he will be looking out of the corner of his eye.
The Victims: Going where the Clinton people never dared or imagined to tread, Team McCain has made Obama’s faith-based politicking itself an issue. From the soulful gospel organ accompanying his winged words, to the implication that the Senator has a messiah complex ( “I have become a symbol of America returning to our best traditions,” and the voiceover, “And the world shall receive his blessings”), to the charge that his aspirations are not particularly realistic (“A nation healed, a world repaired”), this ad is nothing less than an attempt to nuke Obama’s religious appeal and credibility into oblivion.
There were other casualties–and don’t call them “collateral damage” or “road kill” because they were deliberately victimized. The first are the Obama faithful who are made to appear as if they just sleeve-dried the Kool-Aid off their lips (At the college where they teach directors to film political attack ads is there a required course entitled “How to Make People Who Don’t Agree With Your Client Look Like Unbelievable Dorks?”)
The second was the press. In a quick cut a fawning reporter asks Obama if he ever has any doubts. To which he responds–with that Old Devil Moon smile– “never.” Any other questions, journalists of America?
The Target Audience: Independent voters, without a doubt, were invited to this smirkfest. As for Obama-curious Evangelicals and Catholics, they were confronted with an image of an arrogant false prophet, speaking vainly in the name of the Lord. The frame that most struck me was that of a staircase ringed by Obama’s cheering fans and ascending into the clouded heavens. Are the false messiah and his flock about to walk the celestial plank?
John McCain: Secular Messiah?: Probably not, but through some freak occurrence the presumptive 2008 Republican presidential candidate may be a little less threatening to Church/State activists than his Democratic counterpart.
At the end of “The One” a representative from Americans United for Separation of Church and State did not appear to say: “I approve this ad.” But whatever one may think of McCain’s own maladroit religious pandering, this was the send-up of faith-based politicking that America desperately needed.
By Jacques Berlinerblau |
August 4, 2008; 2:54 PM ET
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