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Nice Message, Lousy Ad

Andrew Sullivan looks at the new McCain web ad I poked fun at earlier, "Tolerance," and concludes:

It's an encouraging sign that McCain is not going to pull a Rove this fall; it's a deft way of dealing with racial difference - check out the number of African-Americans in the ad - and it co-opts the "Goodbye To All That" appeal of Obama. A bit syrupy - and McCain doesn't always live up to its message. But it suggests to me that McCain has figured out the public mood. And sees himself as a unifying father-figure. That's shrewd and encouraging.

Ross Douthat only half-agrees:

I don't dislike the message of the ad, necessarily. I think McCain can and should promise (as a certain Texas Governor did, once upon a time) to "change the tone" in Washington, and I think his record as a bipartisan bridge-builder will be crucial to his campaign. I just think the ad itself is terrible - bloated, meandering and deadly dull, a soporific civics lecture delivered in a medium that rewards brevity, energy, and wit.

I'm with Ross on this, but I'd go further. It's not only a bad ad because it's bloated, meandering, and dull--though it is all those things--it's a bad ad because it does virtually nothing to connect its message of tolerant, friendly disagreement with the candidate it endorses. John McCain's name is never spoken, his voice is never heard, and his history of bipartisan cooperation is never mentioned. Footage of him makes up, by my count, less than 30 seconds of a two-and-a-half minute ad.

Yes, there's also some footage of soldiers, and snatches of the voiceover (on "freedom," "nature's Creator," etc.) will signal to those paying close attention that this is, in fact, an ad for the GOP nominee. But for half or more of its running time, this ad looks as though it's an ad for Barack Obama (though, admittedly, still not a good one). Rather than coopt Obama's message of tolerance, this ad seems merely to endorse it. I suspect if it got wide airplay--and it won't--it would benefit Obama far more than McCain. To cite a converse example, this is exactly why you're unlikely to see an Obama ad that extols, in vague terms, the McCain-associated virtues of honor, valor, and martial sacrifice for one's country.

--Christopher Orr