John McCain’s campaign strategy seems to be to throw as much shit against the wall as possible until something—anything—sticks, and his current tactics are the most transparent thing to come out of Washington since before George W. Bush took office. Last week saw a particularly desperate assault that included a sad string of misguided advertisements: “Troops” falsely accused Obama of going to the gym rather than visiting wounded troops in Germany (it’s still posted on the official McCain website, despite its inaccuracy); “Celeb” juxtaposes Obama with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and is as vapid as the celebrities it tries to skewer; while “The One” mocks Obama’s popularity by comparing him to the Second Coming and taking a quote in which he calls himself a “symbol” out of context (Obama’s full statement maintained that the positive reception he received throughout Europe two weeks ago was symbolic of the world’s optimism about America’s future).
On Friday, McCain said he thinks “Celeb” has “a lot of humor in it,” but the only comical part of the ad comes at the end, when the happy music gets cued and McCain proudly tells us he approved the message. That particular ad is so self-damning, revealing the McCain campaign’s lustful envy of Obama’s popularity throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world that I didn’t even think it or any of the other ads were worth commenting on. That is, until today. In a blog posted on The Huffington Post over the weekend, Kathy Hilton called the ad featuring her daughter “a complete waste of the country’s time and attention at the very moment when millions of people are losing their homes and their jobs.” She also called it “a complete waste of the money John McCain’s contributors have donated to his campaign.” And by “John McCain’s contributors” she actually means “me and my husband,” who, according to the Associated Press, have donated $4,600—the maximum amount allowed by law—to the Arizona senator’s campaign earlier this year.
Pissing off Mrs. Hilton is exemplary of how many in the right wing feel about their presumptive nominee. Of course, the McCain campaign doesn’t really need to spend much of the Hilton fortune to lampoon its most infamous family member: Why spend advertising dollars when you can post the thing on YouTube and wait for the media (and—ahem—bloggers) to rant or rave about it? What’s most disturbing about the ads, however, is that they might actually be working. The latest poll results show McCain and Obama in a statistical dead heat. The fact that a man who comes off a lot like a flailing, tasteless-joke-telling uncle who can’t tell his nieces and nephews apart or remember how long it took him to walk uphill both ways to school when he was a boy still has a legitimate shot at the presidency speaks to either his rival’s weakness as a candidate or the profound stupidity of the electorate. That the public is buying into the hype surrounding McCain talking points like the surge and offshore drilling, I’m willing to bet on the latter.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.