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John McCain': Whose Brand Is It Anyway?

Posted by: David Kiley on July 23, 2008

I’m sure some will find the new web video produced by the John McCain campaign, “Obama Love,” amusing. The video strings together a bunch of snippets of TV commentators talking about Obama in positive, sometimes sweet and glowing terms. The video is set to Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”

But, coming on the heels of one of the worst, ham-fisted, nonsense ads of the season in which a John McCain approved ad tries to lay blame for high gas prices on rival Barack Obama, I am thinking this is the week when historians will say that the McCain campaign jumped the shark.

Judging from this week’s management of McCain’s campaign communications, I’d say the biggest obstacle facing the Arizona Senator’s quest for the Oval Office is his own decision, helped by bad advice from his new chief campaign adviser Steve Schmidt, to walk away from the McCain brand.

Schmidt, brought on to “save” McCain’s campaign, advised McCain that its time for him to play the sappy, wounded victim, rather than the confident statesman. Oh Brother! Who think this is a good idea? This new strategy has also been garnished with a new piece of stage management Schmidt has given him: When you have the chance, they have clearly told him, snicker on camera at statements made by Obama. If Obama surrogates say that McCain and Bush statements about “time horizons” sound like Obama’s long-held positions on largely withdrawing from Iraq in 16+ months, or that their moves to prioritize the fighting in Afghanistan sound like positions Obama articulated months ago—-snicker. Laugh it off.

Up until this week, I’d have given McCain an even chance to defeat Obama in November. Obama is charismatic, but has a mighty thin resume. There are enough voters in the U.S. who aren’t sure about voting an African-American into the White House. Add to those people Republicans and people who like to see some gray hair on the President’s head when the *&^%$ hits the fan, and I’d have given McCain a better shot than some national polls.

But these are hardly times in which people want to see a 71-year old candidate laughing off his challenger who is ahead of him in most polls, and who seems more in touch with the electorate’s attitude toward prolonged wars in the Middle East. Add to McCain’s problem his team showing him on a golf cart in Maine with President George H.W. Bush, while Obama is touring Iraq in a helicopter with Generals…It doesn’t look very presidential.

This new “Obama Love” video from the McCain campaign may tickle the nutsy Sean Hannity crowd. But I’m thinking it spells “loser” to independents. C’mon, McCain is bitching because Obama is a better communicator? Because the media is paying extra attention to the first African-American candidate with a serious shot at The White House? One wonders what ads and videos McCain and Schmidt might have run in primary ads if he was up against McCain's hero Ronald Reagan.

Sure, MSNBC is in the tank for Obama. As much as Fox is for McCain. But for every lampoonable Chris Matthews moment of weepiness over an Obama speech, there are hours and hours of anti-Obama ranting and commentary on Sean Hannity’s nightly lie-fest and pretty good doses on Bill O’Reilly. Yes, all three network news anchors went to cover Obama’s MidEast and Europe tour. But here is another to memo to McCain staff: Obama is a historic candidate. It’s a legit news event within the context of a historic, wide-open Presidential race. The fact of Obama is historic and newsy; yes, newsier than John McCain’s candidacy.

McCain has gotten plenty of breaks from the media. His gaffes in the Middle East; his need to be fed lines on camera by Joe Lieberman the way Nancy Reagan used to do for Ronald Reagan because his hearing impairment made it tough for him to hear a question. His forgetting that Czechoslovakia is no longer a country. Most of the media, save MSNBC and Air America, has given him a pass.

I think a good poll question might be: Do you take this year’s presidential election seriously. On a scale of 1 to 10? I think most people would be in the 9-10 range. And McCain is trying to laugh off his historic opponent? Memo to McCain staff: Serious up a bit, or risk trivializing your candidacy.

McCain’s ads in which he states his experience, sacrifice and positions have played extremely well. But this week, he has gone after Obama twice with ads that are cheap, factually untrue and petty. They have been the work of Schmidt, who, very quickly, is making a fool of McCain. The non-partisan calls McCain’s ad blaming Obama for high gas prices “A Full Tank of Nonsense."

For the most part, the Arizona Senator has been running a pretty straight, honorable campaign. Yes, at times it has been lame, as well. His June speech, the night Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, was a study in lameness. His worst offenses have been echoing total misrepresentations of Obama’s positions on Iraq and the tax policy. But that’s par for the Presidential campaign silly season. But the two ads from the campaign this week are just downright childish, cheap and beneath the brand of McCain.

It’s time for the Arizona Senator to stop whining about the media that has, on the whole, been as kind to him as it has been to Obama, man up, and wage an honorable campaign of “straight talk” like the one he has been promising. McCain, if he lets Schmidt run wild, will quickly lose his best asset and most prized possession--his honor. If McCain can't run on his honor, then what is his brand anyway?

Reader Comments


July 23, 2008 6:31 PM

for the campaign who called us "A Nation of Whiners", they sure seem to be a fogetful, bumbling, confused "campaign of whiners".


July 23, 2008 6:43 PM

McCain is opperating the way Bush does....shoot first and answer questions later.....

He doesnt know where he stands on his issues, doesnt know Iraq/Afghanistan dont share a border, cant pronounce our allies names correctly, wants obama to visit Iraq/then says its a political one knows what McCains message is, or even where he stands


July 23, 2008 7:03 PM

Thanks you for writing this!

McCain better be careful what he wishes for: more media coverage would only amplify his litany of gaffes to the level they deserve.

McCain has been getting the velvet glove treatment. If Obama had made half the gaffes McCain has, you'd never hear the end of it.


July 23, 2008 7:43 PM

The senior senator from Arizona is breaking his pledge to run a respectful campaign with these ads.


July 23, 2008 7:56 PM

Hallelujah -

Finally somebody from the monthly print media tells it like it is.

The McCain campaign is in tatters, disorganized, and now conveying a petulant message in their ads. Worse, these last two days have seen McCain essentially accuse Obama of sedition and complicity in Genocide.

Truly sad to see the maverick opponent of 2000 sink so far below his standards - emerging as a confused, angry and morally disgraceful proponent of absolutely nothing.


July 23, 2008 7:58 PM

That Frankie Valli video was the whiniest campaign commercial I've ever seen. So ironic that it comes in the same week as McCain's advisor Gramm complained about the "nation of whiners." What the media generally failed to report is that Gramm was echoing comments that McCain had made earlier when he talked about how "psychological" our economic problems are. So McCain was able to throw him under the bus and pretend it was an anomoly. The reality of the situation is more along the lines of what Frank Rich wrote in his recent NYTimes editorial: McCain is clueless about economics and has surrounded himself with losers and halfwits like Gramm and Fiorina.


July 23, 2008 8:14 PM

Also frightening is McCain’s statement on CBS that the SURGE that led to the Sunni Awakening when the Anbar awakening began in 2006, before the surge started.

In addition, McCain added that the Surge protected a key Sunni sheik who helped lead the “Anbar Awakening”, when the sheik was actually assassinated during the surge. CBS is now under firefor editing out the mistakes and covering up these mistakes. This is being covered extensively by Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.


July 23, 2008 8:14 PM

I will speak for most Americans who aren't stuck up and act as if they have a stick up their buns as they drink latte at the local Starbucks when I say I loved it.

People hate the media. They have a lower approval rating than congress and anyone with eyes and ears know that the media would like nothing more than to witness a black president no matter the cost to the country later. So they are basically saying to undecided beware of what you hear from the media because their objectivity cannot be trusted. It works. You might hate it, but it works.

Lilly Mac

July 23, 2008 8:21 PM

Honor? Hah! Are you kidding me? An honorable man wouldn't have dumped his loyal, injured, disfigured wife for the first moneyed blond honey, by the name of Cindy, that came his way. That's exactly what John McCain did. Ask Nancy Reagan if she thinks John McCain is honorable. This man is unfit to lead our country, and it looks like the media is finally waking up to that fact.


July 23, 2008 8:28 PM

i thought this was a pretty good post until the end, where he talks about McCain's greatest asset being his "honor." He wasn't so honorable in ditching Wife #1 for Richer, Younger Wife #2. He wasn't so honorable in the Keating 5. He hasn't been so honorable sucking up to Bush and Co. the last 8 years, despite what they did to him in 2000. And he sure as hell hasn't been honorable in his endless love-fest with lobbyists. He's pathetic, and his only chance — one which his "honorable" campaign will no doubt work furiously to enhance —- is to hope the racist vote is larger than it appears.

Billy Bob Bobson

July 23, 2008 8:30 PM

Well written, Mr. Kiley.
You can swing public opinion with cheap shots and negative ads for a while, but in the long run it will make you lose.
Hillary had success with whining about media bias for some time, but then it hit her in the face.
The Obama Phenomenon is just fascinating, for both supporters and non-supporters. You have to be blind not to see the difference in excitement with the Obama candidacy compaired with McCain's. The media gives the people what the people wants. And right now people are more in to Obama than McCain.


July 23, 2008 9:16 PM

seems like the Mccain campaign has taken a real turn for the nasty and to me that smells of desparation


July 23, 2008 9:26 PM

Schmidt seems to be trying to pull a "Rove" on Obama. The same trick that Bush has been running on the country for years.

Accuse the press of bias, and just sit back and watch them lean your way to prove you wrong.

Except that this only works if you're the president......or Obama. The press has to WANT the access that you dangle in front of their wet noses.

Like you said.....McCain's jumping the press-shark.

The voter-shark is waiting.....licking its chops.


July 23, 2008 10:49 PM

John McCain is behaving very childishly, and, on top of that, he is slandering and lying about Senator Obama. Kind of like running to mommy and saying little Robert punched him, when in fact NOONE punched him; he just wanted mommy's attention. Except in this instance it is the voters McCain is whining to and to whom he is besmirching Senator Obama. Claiming Senator Obama is willing to lose the war in order to become President is beyond the pale!! I hope ALL of you vividly remember it was Senator Obama who did NOT want us to go to war in the first place?? Perhaps McCain himself wants to lose the war in order for McCain to be President?? Is that why McCain wants to keep us there in Iraq indefinitely?? Until we lose so many troops and so many become severely injured whereas we won't have enough troops to carry on with the war, and ultimately we'll have to leave Iraq under less than honorable conditions?? It is McCain that is being dishonorable to his country, NOT Senator Obama!!


July 24, 2008 12:07 AM

good, straight forward piece of writing.

M. W.

July 24, 2008 12:34 AM

Great article.

Big Genius

July 24, 2008 12:49 AM

Really folks,
Four years of Bush Mark III will destroy this country. Never have the stakes been so high. We just can't afford four more years of the current destruction of the country I love so much. God Bless Texas (he ain't from here)!

truth machine

July 24, 2008 3:07 AM

"Sure, MSNBC is in the tank for Obama. As much as Fox is for McCain."

That's absurd. Joe Scarborough is in the tank for Obama? Chris Matthews said of McCain "we're his base". Nothing on MSNBC, or any other station, approaches the nonstop LYING and SMEARING coming from Fox. Most of the Obama positives you see on MSNBC are simply due to him being a better candidate and campaigner (and better human being). Even Countdown's support for Obama is based on TRUTH, FACTS, and ISSUES, not the sort of "baby mama" garbage that comes from Fox. And if we look elsewhere, McCain receives favoritism from the rest of the MSM ... with CBS going out of their way to edit out his gaffes.


July 24, 2008 4:07 AM

Oregon4Obama, are you sure you are describing McCain and not Bush?! Geographically challenged, grammatically challenged, intellectually challenged, sure sounds like Bush to me.
But wait...yee gods...could it be that McBush and McCain are one in the same? If this is the case I have only one question...How the Heck can it be that McCain is as competitive in this race as he is? Come on America...please not again!!


July 24, 2008 9:45 AM

Common must be joking. Obama is getting the royal treatment from a giddy press and I'm not just talking about Chris Mathews and MSNBC. Let's be fair and figure out exactly what qualifies Obama as the potential next president. The guy showed up for less than 200 day of services in the Senate before deciding he wanted to be president? What about his failure to even cast a vote in Chicago on the truly difficult issues? He does his "World Tour" and states the obvious time and time again and that is news worthy? I don't see it. I don't trust this guy or his motives. So far I can only see that he has been handed, by our equal opportunity society, every possible break yet I fail to see how we have received a return on investment.

While I am no McCain crony, I hate to see the guy get pushed to the proverbial back of the bus so the network anchors can feel as if they are marching with Dr. King. McCain has paid a great sacrifice for his country. Aside from his status as war hero, he has long suffered as a Republican outcast for love of country and doing what is right for America.

Those of you who are on the Obama band wagon...please tell me what the man has done to prepare himself for the most powerful job in the world? But don't waste my time telling me where he went to school...there are thousands with credentials equal or better. Give me something truly noteworthy!

As for the montage in the video, well it's power for the course. True reporting is a thing of the past. Name me one neutral unbiased newsman? It's difficult to say the least when so many come straight from the political insiders guild and overnight become neutral "newsmen" ...give me a break!


July 25, 2008 9:45 AM

Noteworthy, Jim?

How about more than 200,000 people at a rally in Berlin? How about football stadium after football stadium of adoring fans? This is absolutely unheard of and unprecedented. This man represents a new way of looking at the world, and looking at your country and people are extremely hungry for it.

In terms of qualifications, you can't convince me that a person capable of putting together the operation that Obama's built isn't capable of accomplishing almost any other task. His success has been tactical and logistical as much as anything else.

Does he have as much experience as any one of the other contenders in either Primary? Probably not as much as a single one. But not one of them was able to match the organization Obama built. That says a lot about the qualification question, this is a national operation which is more than comparable to any other national enterprise and superior to most.

To the rest of the world, this man represents a new hope. The reasons McCain's not acceptable are outlined quite clearly in this article.

So if you're looking for a real answer, Jim, there it is. Hope that helps you get what all the fuss is about. :-)


July 25, 2008 3:19 PM

I'm a fan of all the Obama love coming from the media. had a really funny comment on how even the people on McCain's campaign must adore Barack. The whole feature is actually great--


July 25, 2008 5:01 PM

McCain's biggest campaign failure is that his website, his media appearances and his speeches are all about Obama. He seems to have given up on talking about himself, his actual positions and concerns. That's not good. It paints him as a man who's only after power and who can't do anything more than tear down his opponents and talk about how they're worse, not prove why he's better.

It's not that the media is in love with Obama. True, there are reporters and pundits who are clearly sold on him and act as his surrogates. But when it comes to the issue of his race and how much he appears in the media vs. how little attention is given to McCain are fueled solely by the RNC. They're the ones who can't stop talking about Obama and they're the ones who keep feeding press releases about him, shoving their own candidate into the darkness, desperate to stop the evil liberal bi-racial man against whom they're competing.

Chuck Cardiff

July 25, 2008 6:38 PM

You have it reveresed. This is the week historians wills say the Obama campaign jumped the shark.


July 26, 2008 9:09 AM


McCain is a War Hero? What exactly makes him a war hero? Because, he said so or the media said so? If he is, why doesn't he open up his military records so we can know the truth? What is he hiding? McCain is no Audie Murphy.


July 26, 2008 10:34 AM

Noteworthy Jim,
Let's see what makes McCain so noteworthy. Finished 5th from the bottom of his class of 899, was a Fighter pilot who crashed 5 airplanes, was a POW who spilled his guts and got special treatment because daddy and granddaddy were Admirals, left 1st wife because she was 5"shorter and heavier from an auto accident while he was a POW and found him a Sugar Mamma, who bought him his political career.

Poor John McCain all he knows is war and he is still trying to win the Vietnam war.

I could go on and on about his ignorance, his terrible temper, his bad judgment, and his inability to run a campaign but the thing that worries me the most is the fact that he is in the early stages of dementia or else he is too stupid to be President. I don't know which it is but neither one is acceptable.

Lianto Suhardi

July 27, 2008 1:02 AM

It seems that BusinessWeek is just another liberal nuts media.

Kool-aid Obama drinker and you all think he is your messiah, just find what a nut job he is at

John M.

July 27, 2008 6:20 PM

There is no salvaging the McCain brand now. Not after McCain doubled down on his attack on Obama's patriotism, put out the second misleading ad, and continued his flip-flop to Obama's timetable position without admitting it.


July 29, 2008 12:44 AM

I never thought I'd say this since I'm officially a senior citizen but I think that McCain is senile. He talked about running a civil campaign, but once Obama won the nomination that went out the window. What else will he forget if he becomes president? He's also showing a creepiness with those weird jokes and downright meanspiritedness...not at all attractive in a presidential candidate. If he keeps this up, Obama will have won the election before we get past the conventions.


August 1, 2008 3:55 PM

No cultists or Hitler lovers please! I can hear the chant "change" change' change" yep, hitler.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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