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The New Obama Ad: Fun, Yes. Effective? Um...

Does this new new ad for Barack Obama, which his campaign calls "embrace," work? 

The crisply produced spot certainly does a nice job of tying John McCain to Bush, with snapshot after snapshot of the two embracing. (Thus, the title.) It also exposes the hypocrisy inherent McCain's ads, which mock Obama for his celebrity. Whatever McCain's relationship with the press today, he has a long history as a media darling. And that history has played no small role in his career trajectory.

On the other hand, I wonder whether showing McCain on Leno, Letterman, etc., is all that damaging. These are popular shows, after all. Even if the ad highlights McCain's hypocrisy, it could simultaneously foster some more positive feelings among some pretty key demographics. Does the Obama campaign really want older women seeing McCain looking all smiles on "The View"?

I also worry about the broader strategic approach here. It's good to hit back at McCain, for sure. But this particular ad is a true response, in the sense that it basically answers McCain's recent line of attack on its own terms. In other words, it actually keeps the conversation about "celebrity" going.

I wonder if this is a case when the best defense would actually be a good offense. Instead of arguing, in effect, that McCain is just as much a celebrity as Obama, why not simply argue that McCain is a tool of special interests -- or unresponsive to the needs of Americans struggling to make it through hard economic times? Those charges appear in this ad, but only as afterthoughts. They are secondary to the accusations about celebrity.

Based solely on what the Obama campaign has accomplished to date, my natural inclination is to assume they know what they are doing. But I can't help thinking this particular ad is one of their rare mistakes.

Update: Readers have posted many smart comments in the the talkback thread. And while some agree with me, the majority seem to think I'm overreacting. Readers fbacon2 and timteeter, among others, think this is an advertisement designed to influence the opinion elite, not the public. That's why it focuses on "celebrity." They may be right and, if so, then I agree: The ad makes more sense.

--Jonathan Cohn