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It's 3 A.m. (again)

A few thoughts about the new Hillary Clinton ad, a "sequel" to the famous (in some circles, infamous) "3 a.m." ad the campaign aired in the runup to the Texas and Ohio primaries:

1) First, kudos to Clinton for going after John McCain. His obvious lack of enthusiasm for tackling the housing crisis--and economic matters generally--is a real weak point for him, one that could cause him serious trouble if he doesn't shore it up by fall.

2) Also, I think this variation on the "3 a.m." theme makes it appear rather less likely that the original ad was consciously designed to stoke racial fears. Whereas the visuals of the original, which suggested a mother concerned with the possibility of a predator menacing her children, did seem as though they might (deliberately or not) play into such fears, there's nothing remotely comparable here. (I suppose the counterargument would be that unlike the first ad, this one is not directed at a black candidate. But I'm inclined to offer the benefit of the doubt here.) 

That said, this doesn't seem to me to be a very effective ad, though I could certainly be proven wrong. First, the situation is incongruous: Would a president really be getting an urgent 3 a.m. call about home foreclosures? Worse, there's very little visual logic here: We see sleeping kids at night (and are told "It's 3 a.m."), but then we segue to images of adults dealing with bills or mortgages in clear daylight, and then back again to the kids' bedroom and the announcement that it is (again?) 3 a.m.

The original ad had a powerful visual integrity--a house at night, sleeping children, an anxious mother checking in to make sure they're okay--that played on the primordial fears of any parent (whether or not you think there was any racial component). This ad, with its peculiar nighttime crisis and inconsistent visuals, feels like a square peg stuffed into a round hole. The Clinton campaign obviously feels that the whole concept of a 3 a.m. phone call has a kind of totemic resonance, regardless of context. I'm not so sure.

But hopefully this time they checked to make sure that none of the "sleeping children" in their footage grew up to be precinct captains for Barack Obama.

--Christopher Orr