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October 23, 2008


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Not So Silly Now

I think Murphy's suggestion reflects a difference between two campaigns that have started sounding remarkably similar. Both Obama and McCain declared this would be a different kind of campaign, and that they were the candidates of change. Obama's 'different campaign' was to forego public funding in lieu of private fundraisers, and advertise a) in new ways, b) in large, direct messages and c) a lot. His two-minute policy spots and half-hour blocks cost an arm and a leg of the fundraising titan, but they're worth it. It's a sort of businesslike straightforwardness that lacks the kitschy charm of Palin, or the Uncle Cowboy cheery toughness of McCain, but a lot of Americans have realized they don't want an Uncle Cowboy administration.

McCain's 'different campaign' has been, by contrast, a series of "game-changers" and wild-cards. Choosing Palin as VP-candidate, suspending his campaign, blustering over the media/liberal elite, refusing to refute outrageous claims in the attack ads and stick to his guns - it's not the traditional foundation of a campaign, no. I believe what he was trying to do is establish himself as not just a D.C. maverick, but a national one. And it's not helping. The problem is that all these things come off either as stunts or the ravings of an old, tired, frustrated man. And while it makes for an election with more twists and turns for our scrappy old hero and his sidekick Skippy Palin, it lacks a kind of seriousness that on some level, the majority of Americans crave. It's a different kind of campaign, sure. But it's not the kind that people are looking for.

In essence, the antics of McCain and Palin are appealing at face value, and they make for a fascinating election. But there are issues at play that are genuinely more important than who is just flat-out, straight-up more likeable. McCain may get grins for gleefully calling the teen who asked about his age a "little jerk", and Palin may get chuckles for her one-liners. But cracks and quips only go so far when the mortage is on the line. Obama's no-frills policy spots may not be as catchy as Palin's zingers (and heaven help us if he winks at the camera), but it's new enough, and honest enough, that it sticks with voters while the pitbulls are drowning in Neiman-Marcus receipts.

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