The Latest Ads: Keeping it 'Clean'?

By David Kiley

I look back with some degree of wistfulness and nostalgia to a time about five months ago when strategists from both the Democratic and Republican parties said that this campaign might be the cleanest in decades in terms of ads and even stump rhetoric.

Those projections came from the idea that Barack Obama was operating on a different plane than his then-rival Hillary Clinton and projecting an almost Kennedyesque posture toward campaigning. McCain, a campaign-finance reformer and Father of the “Straight-Talk Express,” was also talking of waging “the cleanest campaign in many years.”

Clean is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

Pundit/commentators like Mike Barnicle have repeated the “This is nothing” sum-up of the ads run so far by the candidates. He may be right. If we compare the tone and tenor of the ads we have seen so far with that of past campaigns, he has a point. But perhaps many are comparing what we are getting these days from the campaigns with what many had hoped for this time. That was the Spring, though, and that's when hope springs eternal.

One big disappointment Obama dealt his supporters was not agreeing to a series of town hall meetings with John McCain. If he had done so, it might have short-circuited the tawdry and often childish ads we have seen, especially from McCain’s staff. It’s hard to ridicule someone you have to see once a week face-to-face. I wonder how campaigns would be if candidates not only agreed to face each other in a town hall once a week for eight weeks, but also agreed to sit with each other for fifteen minutes before each one, one-on-one with no staff.

Here is Obama’s newest volley. We are going to see a lot of the picture contained in this ad: one of George W. Bush embracing McCain like a little brother. I wouldn’t even call this a negative ad. It is negative, to be sure. But it is the kind of bread-and-butter needle at your opponent that, in a better world, should typify the worst it should get.

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