Obamamercial so schmaltzy, but send money now!

Obama's commandeering of prime time television pulled in 34 million viewers. The warning label should, however, read "only in America"

You will shocked, I'm sure, to learn that North America is obsessed with the United States election, and not New Zealand's battle of the 8th. While the impact of such a reality check settles, keep in mind the benefits of being from a small country which lacks the sort of dosh for either Helen Clark or John Key to commandeer the main television networks for half an hour. Uninterrupted. It makes a news junkie crave the ads.

The Obamamercial has been and gone, at a cost of somewhere between US$3m and US$5m. Kerchiingg! The only bit missing was a voice screaming, “but wait, send money now”. Of course the campaign doesn’t need to go on the telly and implore the masses for more cash—even after splashing out for the O’mercial. This was not about bringing in more campaign funds. This, as with any infomercial, be it the guy with the computer programme, with the steak knives, or the best diet in the world, was to sell something. This commandeering of prime time was to sell the product Barack Obama, and his campaign was doing so in the infomercial capital of the world.

In a pure, unadulterated, perfectly produced pitch, ‘President’ Obama looked cool, calm and collected in a wood paneled office designed to evoke an image of the Oval Office. It was not a fireside chat because he’s a new type of ‘President’. This was about the image the Obama campaign wanted to flash into the mind of anyone who might, for a split second, doubt Obama’s fit with the White House. Remember, he faces the possibility of the Bradley Effect, which means voters may say they are going to vote for the black guy, but when they are in the privacy of the voting booth, don’t. Ed Bradley when he was running for Mayor of Los Angeles was the surefire winner in every poll. He was black. He lost. Hence the vernacular now has a neat little package to explain what could happen to Obama. It is a real concern, and one which the Obama campaign has had hanging over its head from the beginning of the primaries.

Obama said his presentus-uninterruptus was aimed at undecideds, but added that it was also a message to—that's right—Republicans! He wants GOP voters to know that he's not their enemy. Obama's beef is with those who have been “kidnapped by a highly ideological subset of the Republican party”. He says he’s now talking to Republicans who may also be uncomfortable with the ideology that has brought America to the economic, military and diplomatic state it's now in. Tellingly, it was delivered on a day when Syrians learned of a unilateral US breach of their sovereignty in a military strike that killed Syrian citizens. Within hours that ideology at work in the incumbent White House was decried by tens of thousands of Syrians, and the US has had to close its embassy in Damascus for security reasons. Obama wants to reach those Republicans who are uneasy with the ideological underpinnings of the current world policeman.

However, were you to watch the Obamamercial, you’d be forgiven for thinking the wealthiest country in the world is a place to be avoided. Those who meticulously put together the softly lit, perfectly paced, 30 minutes of propaganda had no problems wheeling out the ill, the uninsured, the under-employed, the under-educated, and the struggling, to the point that they would have been downright depressing had they not delivered it in such a serene, non-offensive way. Is this really the United States of America? Is this the land to which so many are so desperate to emigrate? No, it is the pain of the heartland being trotted out for politically expedient purposes. But hey, that’s politics and both sides of the political argument exploit it to the hilt – or should that be the Hill?

There is a schmaltz level at which New Zealand journalism balks. Not surprisingly that level is pretty damn close to what is tolerated by the voters, and the politicians themselves have a fairly good grasp of the saccharine they can swim in before self-dissolving and deservedly so. We like our politicians real, we spurn the spin and the soft music, we even poke the borax at Clark’s fantasy teeth. There is just no way an Obama telly tactic played out in New Zealand would work in the way the party would be banking on. It would more than likely have the exact effect most of the Bush doctrine applications have had around the world—ensuring the opposite of the intended great plan. That’s just what John McCain’s hoping will happen, but believe you me, before you invite him Down Under read the October 16 edition of Rolling Stone.

The reality is had McCain access to the Obama cash, he’d have done exactly what “That One” did. And here’s the reason. Thirty-four million people tuned in to the half-hour which was shown on seven networks countrywide. It is entirely possible some of them were a captive audience as they waited for the start of the second part of the rain-interrupted World Series (baseball), but nevertheless en masse they represented an audience any politician, especially one consistently lagging behind in the polls, dreams of. Ask Winston or Helen.

Instead McCain is left trying to whistle up a plumber—literally. Trouble is his pet plumber “Joe” (not his real name, and he’s not a registered plumber) seems to have gone almost overnight from working stiff to rock star, and isn’t exactly on call. McCain has found himself in the ignominious position of, in front of a huge campaign rally, calling for Joe, who obviously was supposed to be there. "Where’s Joe?” McCain asks his adoring crowd. “Joe, where are ya?” the increasingly ill-at-ease-one asks. “Joe, I thought you were here with us today…(uncomfortable; no show seconds seems like hours)….well, you’re all Joe the plumbers,” McCain manages to stammer out to the crowd. Indication: campaign in meltdown. With seven or eight houses he should know plumbers are difficult to find. His Joe can no longer be whistled up at whim anymore. He’s signed up with a PR firm to manage his interviews, which may be a clue to his absence.

Next thng you know, Joe the Plumber will be Palin’s vice-presidential pick in 2012, because in case you hadn’t heard, she’s in this for the long run. McCain’s camp says she’s already gone “rogue” and “off message” and is a “whack job”—whatever the American interpretation of that is. Joe, it seems, is learning from the Mooster, in their Eliza Doolittle kinda way. He’s been caught on network cameras proffering policy advice on all number of things to fellow Republican groupies. His field of expertise so far seems to be the danger Obama would pose to the US position in the Middle East, as in “Israel will go up in flames” should Obama be elected. Perhaps it is Joe who has been working the Texans, who according to some polls swagger in at a staggering 23 percent who believe Obama is a Muslim. That’s nearly one in four creeping out from under their Stetsons to show the world what a great grip they have on US election affairs, let alone world affairs.

If it is a Palin-J Plumber ticket in 2012, book publishing will be the industry to invest in. The presses seem to have rolled red hot with tall tales and true of the baby Bush regime. Publishers would salivate at the potential of the ‘P’s to carry on at least that part of the Bush legacy. In the meantime, we can look forward to Maverick McCain’s guide on how to not run a campaign, how to not pick a running mate, how to not be angry all the time, and how to not try and interfere in issues such as the economy when you don’t know what you are doing. Then of course there will the third Obama autobiography, all before he’s 50.