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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The controversy over McCain’s anti-Obama ad – “The One”

The debate over McCain’s “the One” anti-Obama ad that erupted last Friday raises several profound questions about the nature of the McCain presidential campaign.
First, the easy question – does the ad actually intend to subtly suggest a resemblance between Obama and the anti-Christ or was it – as the McCain campaign argues – simply a tongue-in-cheek satire of Obama’s supposed presumptuousness and inflated self-opinion?
One can review the quite substantial body of evidence cited by Amy Sullivan in the Time magazine article that brought the controversy to national attention here, and draw one’s own conclusions, but a very easy analytical short-cut is simply to note that the combination of the faux biblical words “The World Will be Blessed, They Will Call Him ‘The One’” and the image of a politician speaking before huge cheering crowds effortlessly invokes mental images from several dozen major Hollywood films, TV movies and mass market paperback books of the last 30 years dealing with the Devil/Satan/Anti-Christ.
This very substantial genre of popular entertainment began with “The Omen” series in the 1970’s and has continued unabated to the present (leaving in its wake a vast trail of earnest village priests impaled by iron fence stakes, eaten by ants or killed by vicious giant hounds as they raced to warn an unsuspecting world). Quite apart from the massive niche audience of the Left Behind series, there is probably not a single popcorn-eating movie-goer in America who is not familiar with the “Satan or Anti-Christ as sinister, charismatic politician” trope in American popular cinema, TV and paperback books. The ad’s creators, as communications professionals, knew this perfectly well.
If one therefore sets aside as totally implausible a “Gee, it never even crossed our minds” excuse from the ads creators, the remaining possibilities raise several deeply disturbing questions about the nature of John McCain’s presidential campaign. The designers of the ad could not possibly have avoided knowing that during the primaries the “Obama as Anti-Christ” notion was being widely circulated and discussed in conservative Christian circles. This leads to three mutually exclusive possibilities.

1. That John McCain understood that the ad might be interpreted as having an “Obama as anti-Christ” theme and nonetheless approved it.
2. That John McCain understood that the ad might be interpreted as having an “Obama as anti-Christ” theme and disapproved of it, but was overruled by his new campaign managers who ordered its release anyway.
3. That John McCain did not realize that the ad might be interpreted as having an “Obama as anti-Christ” theme because his campaign managers deliberately avoided discussing that possibility with him when they requested his go-ahead.

It is difficult to decide which of these three possibilities has the most disturbing implications, but the press should certainly take it as their responsibility to try and find out. The question goes to the heart of John McCain’s character, his ability to manage and what kind of president he would become if elected.

3 comments on “The controversy over McCain’s anti-Obama ad – “The One”

  1. Nanner on

    Another option to consider, more concerning I believe than the more benign “McCain knew the ad might imply Obama is the antichrist,” is that the ad was deliberately made to send this message to evangelicals while appearing innocuous to those outside the conservative Christian subculture. The fact that, according to that Time article, this ad is the brain child of a close friend of Ralph Reed’s suggests pretty strongly that it is more than a happy coincidence evangelicals are seeing the Obama-antichrist message in this ad. People should also check out this article in the WSJ where the authors of the Left Behind series say they recognized the allusions to their books as well:
    Anyone interested in examining all the references to Scripture and the Left Behind series, making a pretty compelling case that this was in fact intentional, should read this memo circulated by the Eleison Group: http://www.eleisongroup.com.

  2. James Vega on

    One has to consider two factors here.
    1. The McCain campaign has to be desperate to energize the religious right activists who were vital to the GOTV work in 2004. Energizing one activist could, in their calculations, be worth much more than the cost of annoying one or two intelligent evangelicals.
    2. The visual communication appraoch of the ad is so terrible (the inexplicable flight of stairs, the inconsistent color palette etc.) that they must have thought that most people were simply not going to look closely at the dreadful thing – and that the “wink,wink” message would only be picked up by the in-crowd. In retrospect, its amazing how far they got before being called on it.
    James Vega

  3. Jon on

    What’s astonishing to me is what a lack of respect the ad shows for evangelicals, most of whom are not in fact biblical literalists. Does the McCain campaign really think that the vast majority of Tim LaHaye fans can’t distinguish between fiction and reality? And hasn’t it crossed their mind how much this kind of “outreach” is likely to offend religious people who see the Presidential campaign as about issues and character, and are sick of being stereotyped as unaware of reality?
    Which isn’t to deny that the nudge-nudge will appeal to plenty of voters, but you really have to wonder whether the costs will outweigh the benefits here …


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