The very well and slickly produced “Barack Obama: American Stories, American Solutions” was so precisely aimed at undecided average and “real” American voters that I expected the candidate to start visiting them at the doorsteps.
Mixing American imagery of amber waves of grain with down-on-their-luck tales of hardship, it had more the feel of “Extreme Home Makeover” than Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America.” Obama was the host, narrating a series of down-on-their-luck tales of hardship from working class Americans, struggling to make mortgage payments, coping with the loss of a job or worried about collecting their pensions.
“You just wonder, you know, where am I going to go from here?” one woman asks.
Just when all seems lost appears Obama, staring right at camera, offering reassurance against soft music and light piano strokes. He spoke from an office setting — looking just not enough like the Oval Office so as not to appear presumptuous.
Special appearances came from swing-state popular politicos and even Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who also mentions another well-loved Obama backer, Warren Buffett.
Obama told Jon Stewart later on Wednesday that he didn’t want to “oversell” and “let people make up their minds.”
But Obama’s half-hour was emotional, empathetic, a bit sugary and probably pretty effective. The messages were clear and concise, veering away from Democrats tendency to fill time with talking points.
It also was a heavily branded infomercial, a fact that I could never quite get away from even as my heart said “uplift.”
Obama offers his biography, emphasizing his Kansas roots rather than his Kenyan ancestry. Obama, on being raised by his mother: “My son, he’s an American, and he needs to know what it means.”
Moreover, there were shots of him in the Senate and the Illinois statehouse, a buffer as McCain tries to drive home the experience argument (The latest slogan, which seems to give a nod to Obama’s appeal, is “Not ready — yet”).
Obama was the first candidate to make such an outlay in prime time since Ross Perot offered his gadfly credos in 1992, but the origins of these sales pitches date to 1968, when Richard Nixon staged faux town hall meetings to woo the silent majority.
Thank god Obama didn’t deploy the same tactics — as savvy as his handlers were. Hillary Clinton tried an hour-long infomercial that aired on Hallmark Channel during the primaries, but it was much mocked for its mix of softball questions and demographically aimed pitches.
By contrast, Obama’s real people seemed less staged and more authentic, even though the campaign had greater control of their message than either Nixon or Clinton had (the latter was actually cut off by Hallmark when her infomercial ran overtime). Ironically, the least effective portion came in the last five minutes, when they cutaway live to Florida for the end of an Obama speech to a full stadium of supporters. It was what it was: A stump speech.
McCain, to little surprise, criticized the largesse of the “gauzy, feel-good commercial,” and once again pointed to the fact that Obama pulled out of public financing. That opened the spigots to unprecendented levels of fund-raising, which could have allowed the candidate not just to buy this bloc of time but a 13-week series.
The McCain campaign sniped, “As anyone who has bought anything from an infomercial knows, the sales-job is always better than the product. Buyer beware.”
After the 30-minute spot aired on MSNBC, Chris Matthews said, “You have to be a tough customer not to be touched by that.”
I can think of one person who may not have been: Joe the Plummer. But he’s no longer a tale of hardship; he’s negotiating a record contract.