That the McCain campaign’s latest TV commercials comparing Barack Obama’s status as a celebrity with that of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, both famous merely for being famous, has drawn blood was obvious on NBC’s "Meet the Press" Sunday where Sen. Joseph Lieberman squared off with host Tom Brokaw and Obama supporter Sen. John Kerry.
Brokaw opened the show by stating flat out that “The battle for the White House takes on the most negative tone yet,” accepting the Obama campaign’s defensive reaction to the latest McCain TV commercials that spoofed Barack Obama’s rock-star-like celebrity.
After airing the ad, Brokaw remarked that, "This is going to be a discussion of issues, but also of tone because tone is an important part of any presidential campaign,” implying that the ad and a newer one that shows Obama as a would-be Moses parting the Red Sea sets an allegedly negative tone.
He went on to recall McCain’s pledges to run a respectful campaign and to avoid negative attacks, suggesting that the new ad strategy of spoofing his opponent is negative, asking Sen. Lieberman, "Do you think running a campaign ad in which you feature Britney Spears and Paris Hilton with Barack Obama is respectful?"
Appearing as a guest with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Connecticut independent-Democrat and avid McCain supporter quickly shot back: “I do. First off, you know, we all ought to relax a little bit. It's a bit of humor. It's a way to draw people into the ad.
“Incidentally, the McCain campaign has another ad up in which they seem to be comparing Obama to Moses. So, in my book, that's about a good comparison as you can ask for. I should say, in 'The Book,' it's about a good a comparison as you should ask for.”
Lieberman went on to explain, “But, look, there's a very serious point to that ad, and it, and it gets right to it, which is, notwithstanding his celebrity status, is Barack Obama ready to lead? And my answer is no, that Barack Obama is a gifted, eloquent, young man who can and I hope will give great leadership to America in the years ahead. But the question is, Who's ready to be president on January 20th, 2009 with the economy in a crisis and facing dangerous enemies abroad? It's clearly John McCain. We only have two choices here: John McCain, Barack Obama. John McCain is ready to lead.”
Brokaw refused to let go, remarking that “But in the ad . . . let's stay with the ad for a moment. By including Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, two lightweights who are known primarily as just the targets of paparazzi around the world, with Senator Obama, isn't that demeaning?”
Lieberman replied, “No. I think it raises a question. First, though, I think it's cute, and a lot of people . . .”
Before he could finish Brokaw cut in asking, “What does he have, what does he have to do with Paris Hilton or Britney Spears?”
Lieberman replied, “The point here is, particularly after the trip to Europe, essentially holding a political rally of 200,000 in Germany — in Berlin, bigger crowd than he's gotten anywhere here in America, and he's gotten some big crowds, this ad raises the question we're, we're not deciding who's our favorite celebrity, who, who we are fans of. We're doing something very serious at a time when our economy is hurting a lot of people, energy prices are sky-high, and we still are in a war against the Islamic terrorists who attacked us on 9/11.
“Look beyond the celebrity status, is what this ad is saying. This is a good, young man. Is he ready to lead? Or as ready as John McCain? No. In fact, the ad goes to a specific point, which is Senator Obama is against offshore drilling for oil, to try to do something to stop the flow of $700 billion a year to the Middle East and other places around the world and to try to stop the painful increase in gas prices and home heating oil prices.
“John McCain is for both of those. John McCain is for alternative energy, for nuclear power, for offshore drilling. Barack Obama, notwithstanding what he said over the weekend, is not. What he — what Barack Obama did over the weekend about offshore drilling is a tease. He still hasn't said he's for offshore drilling.”
Momentarily sidestepping those key issues, Brokaw continued to harp on the two McCain ads, many experts see as very damaging to Obama’s carefully scripted persona. He persisted saying “we want to play out this controversy over the two ads because this is what Senator Obama had to say in response to the ad that included Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.”
In videotaped remarks, Obama is shown as charging that the McCain campaign doesn’t “have any new ideas, the only strategy they've got in this election is to try to scare you about me. They're going to try to say that I'm a risky guy. They're going to try to say, 'Well, you know, he's got a funny name, and he doesn't look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five dollar bills.'"
Brokaw said, “And right away the manager from McCain campaign said that's the 'introduction of the race card,' He quoted the McCain spokesman as saying 'Barack Obama has played the race card, he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.'"
Brokaw then asked Sen. Kerry, “by using the language that he did, saying, ‘I don't look like the president on a dollar bill or a five dollar bill,’ wasn't he, in effect, saying, ‘They're picking on my because I'm black’'?"
Kerry denied it: “No. What he was saying is they're trying to scare you. They're trying to scare the American people. And, believe me, I'm an expert on how they do that. They are engaged in character assassination, even John McCain's partner in a number of initiatives in the Senate, Russ Feingold, said yesterday, 'They've decided they can't win on the issues, so now they're going to try to destroy his character.' And that is exactly what this ad is calculated to do.”
The discussion about the ads continued, with Lieberman defending them as a humorous way to show that Obama is essentially a lightweight that has struck home and frightened his campaign with their effectiveness with the voters.
Kerry even managed to drag in the name of Karl Rove, remarking, “And then Karl Rove turns around, and Karl Rove brings up another statement, saying, ‘Obama's like the guy at the country club with the beautiful date and a martini and a cigarette in his hand.’ What are they trying to do? They're trying to say to America, somehow, he's not like you.
He's not like us.’"
The two senators squared off on Obama’s refusal to condone offshore drilling, the candidate’s positions on healthcare, Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the success of the surge, and his refusal to specifically rebuke his supporter Gen. Wesley Clark’s attack on McCain’s heroic war record.
Lieberman made news by strongly hinting that he will speak at the Republican National Convention.
Asked by Brokaw, “Are you going to speak at the Republican convention?” Lieberman said, “that decision — I'll let the future of politics take care of itself. I feel very good about what I've done. Am I going to speak at the convention? That decision hasn't been made. If Senator McCain feels that I can help his candidacy, which I think it's so important to elect him our next president, I will do it. But I assure you this, Tom, I'm not going to go to that convention, the Republican convention, and spend my time attacking Barack Obama.
"I'm going to go there really talking about why I support John McCain and why I hope a lot of other independents and Democrats will do that. And frankly, I'm going to go to a partisan convention and tell them, if I go, why it's so important that we start to act like Americans and not as, as partisan mudslingers here in Washington.”
Said Brokaw “Sounds like you're going to go."
Lieberman added, “Well, we'll see." Kerry chimed in, “Sounds like that to me, too.”
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