It was like a well-produced "60 Minutes" report on the struggling middle class, if those who are struggling all happened to live in swing states. Call it "30 Minutes."
Obama did the voice-over, playing the role of correspondent, and the goal, of course, was to intertwine his personal story with the difficulties and aspirations of ordinary Americans whose votes he needs to put him over the top.
The Obama infomercial last night began in a faux Oval Office -- the desk, the tree behind the windows, the flag pin on the man who once disdained them -- that to my eye seemed a tad presumptuous. It was, naturally, designed to get you to envision him as the 44th president.
The mini-portraits -- the injured tire worker in Missouri, the retired railroad worker in Ohio, the widow with two jobs in New Mexico, the teacher in Colorado, the auto worker in Kentucky -- were polished and, at times, quite moving. Obama wants it known that he is fighting for them.
What also worked was depicting Barack in people's living rooms, talking about what he wants to do for them. (Although how did the tax cuts suddenly move down from people earning $250,000 to those at 200K?)
What didn't work were the brief tributes by senators and governors -- who might as well have been touting the slice-o-matic -- and the snippets of Obama's Greek column convention speech. We've already seen that, and it was out of sync with the tone of the ad.
Which brings me to the final three minutes. The idea of moving from the safety of a videotape to a live event was inspired. But doing it in a cheering Florida stadium with Obama going to the overblown rhetoric and vowing to "change the world," not so much. The whole idea of the show was to bring Obama down from the clouds and into the street. The big rally came close to canceling out the man-of-the-people image so carefully constructed in the previous 27 minutes.
Still, the show was on CBS, NBC, Fox and four other networks -- the biggest such splash since Ross Perot's pie charts -- and it probably helped at the margins. Even if it didn't, I don't get some of the advance criticism that the show would boomerang because of its excessive nature. No one had to watch. They could always switch over to "Pushing Daisies" on ABC.
If the press were inclined to hammer the Democratic nominee for buying the election after blowing off public financing, the infomercial would be Exhibit A. But the press is giving him a pass on the issue.
One other observation: Has Obama been watching too many Palin speeches? He kept talking about "workin' families" and was in full g-dropping mode.
How many GOP talking points did you spot? I see at least four. In paragraph 3, Kurtz writes about a "faux Oval Office." Other commentators did as well, which I suppose is fine, although you'll notice it's all brown wood versus the white of the Oval Office, and I don't think appearing in an office is the slightest bit remarkable for a political ad. But Kurtz calls this move "a tad presumptuous." Gosh, we've never heard that one before, have we? It's awfully "presumptuous" for Obama to think he might actually be elected somehow? Kurtz also accuses Obama of 'disdaining' wearing a flag pin. This is a common right-wing talking point, and Kurtz repeating it is unconscionable bullshit. After the flag pin idiocy was finally pretty much dead back in July, Kurtz repeated the smear by agreeing with a disingenuous National Review piece that resurrected it yet again. At the time, rather than blogging about it, I actually wrote Kurtz a detailed e-mail with links (such as this one) debunking the claims. He never replied, and that's fine. But he really, really should know better. At best, it's a contentious charge that shouldn't be presented as fact, but the truth is it's an ugly smear. Yet he clearly has no compunctions about tossing it off, facts be damned.
In paragraph 5, Kurtz expresses confusion about Obama's tax plan. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that Sarah Palin and other McCain surrogates have been making this attack for the past week or so. Seriously, how can Kurtz possibly be ignorant on this subject? Biden did make a misstatement within the past two weeks his critics seized upon, but the campaign immediately corrected it, and it's not as if Obama's tax policies are some big secret. Obama's described them in at least two debates, and his nomination speech, among other places. (Update: Per CNN, Biden didn't even really misspeak, unless we define "misspeak" as "saying something accurate that an opponent can quote in misleading way." McCain's just lying.) Here's one chart that explains the Obama-McCain differences, and a Hilzoy post that goes in more depth. Basically, Obama is raising taxes on folks making over $250,000 a year. Those making between $200,000 and $250,000 will not see their tax rate move much at all. Those making less than $200,000 will see a tax break – and it's a larger break under Obama than McCain, who is giving bigger breaks to the wealthiest Americans (like his wife) than even George Bush did. Thus, as Obama has often said, roughly 95% of Americans will not see their taxes go up under an Obama presidency, and most of that number will see a tax break. Seriously, how could Kurtz not know this, or not research it to refresh his memory? Does Kurtz just have a crappy memory, does he not want to do research to solve his confusion, or does he just take most of his cues from Republicans attacking Obama?
In paragraph 6, I'd say Obama's decision to cut to his nomination speech was an effective choice. It reminded people of the power of the speech, and it reinforced that he's been saying this stuff for a while now. Kurtz is free to disagree on that. But mentioning the Greek columns is just pathetic. As you may remember, right-wing blogs were obsessed with this, even though Bush accepted his nomination in 2004 in front of Greek columns. Apparently Kurtz missed the many mentions of that hypocrisy on liberal blogs and establishment outlets such as The Politico, or the terms "nomination speech" or "convention speech" just didn't appeal to him.
As to the public financing charge, while it's a conservative talking point, it's a fair criticism up to a point. Still, Kurtz has never to my knowledge pointed out that McCain has violated campaign finance laws (Talking Points Memo, a blog Kurtz typically reads, has done numerous posts and at least one video on this subject). I don't remember Kurtz hammering the Republican Party for its massive spending advantage in 2004, or criticizing how the GOP hit Kerry with the Swift-Boat ads at a point in the campaign cycle when Kerry's funds were curtailed by finance laws. Kurtz buds Mark Halperin and John Harris wrote a whole book extolling the virtue of Rove's sleazy, win-at-any-cost, bigger war chest brand of politics. Now, Kurtz isn't too blame for their book, of course, but he shares many of their views, and the whole gang are pretty selective when it comes to fairness.
Kurtz is entitled to his other opinions. The Florida rally wasn't live out here in California, so its special nature was lost on me. I don't have an issue with the old speeches and the new rally being intercut with the informercial stuff, which also intercut Obama speaking directly to the American people, mini-docs on families, and Obama listening to and talking to American citizens. But hey, Kurtz is free to feel differently.
All that said, if Kurtz isn't aware of what he's shilling, boy, he's been duped, and if he is aware, it's even more shameful. I think it's a mixture of both. In any case, while Kurtz has his moments, his blog's main virtue is as a conservative blog round-up, but Kurtz still affects a persona of being fair and balanced, ample evidence to the contrary. Once again, he's adopted a right-wing framing and legitimizes bullshit.
(Oh, and Pushing Daisies is a good show, but I don't think even Ned could resurrect McCain's campaign at this point.)
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)