John McCain’s new “Man In The Arena” ad, melding Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, Michael Mann, Young Indiana Jones Chronicles-style documentary, and Star Trek.
By Bill Bradley
This week in presidential politics, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton square off in Tuesday’s Mississippi primary, as the Democratic race goes on, and on — with Obama in the lead but the Clintons clinging to their long-presumed power position. While the Democrats fight on, seemingly to the August convention in Denver, John McCain lays his plans.
Great news long-term for the Republicans, right? Yes. And no, looking at this result over the weekend. Former House Speaker Denny Hastert’s once very red Illinois congressional seat turned blue in Saturday’s special election, with a big assist to the new Democratic congressman from Obama, who cut the closing TV spot for the winner and turned over part of his organizing team.
But back to the Democratic foodfight.
The ex-prez, after savaging the freshman Illinois senator earlier in the campaign, called for a Clinton/Obama ticket over the weekend while barnstorming through Mississippi. The Clintons say Obama doesn’t have the chops to be president in a national emergency. But they say they want him to be vice president. Cheeky, since he has a clear lead in earned delegates she almost certainly won’t be able to close. And strange, since the first thing a vice president has to be is the someone who can replace the president in, yes, a national emergency.
Meanwhile, Clinton suffered a setback with regard to her claims of national security experience. She’s taken of late to claiming substantial credit for brokering the peace deal in Northern Ireland. But the Telegraph reported on Saturday that a Nobel Peace Prize winner for the Northern Ireland deal is deriding Hillary’s claims as “silly.”
This came on the heels of a report in the Chicago Tribune debunking Hillary’s claims to expertise in national security crisis management.
Too bad for Obama that this very good storyline for him was totally obscured by a couple of his advisors shooting off their mouths to people they don’t know.
Too bad for Hillary that this campaign has a long way to go.
And so much for the notion of the Clintons being fully vetted. Here is a tip of an iceberg that Team McCain and the Republican National Committee intends to fully expose in the still-less-than-likely event that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee. Bill and Hillary Clinton are still blocking release of the former president’s pardon records. They left the White House seven years ago.
Another negative Clinton story totally obscured by that Obama foreign policy advisor Samantha Power’s outburst about Hillary being a “monster” — and her musings to the BBC that Obama may not be serious about this Iraq withdrawal thing.
Even though the Clintons’ amazing post-presidential wealth, and the massive secret contributions taken in by the Clinton Presidential Library, are big issues waiting to be seized by either Obama or McCain, the fact remains that Bill Clinton is still a major asset for his wife’s campaign.
The mainstream media has pushed a storyline that Bill Clinton is locked in a closet. Actually, he has been campaigning feverishly and effectively in midsized and small markets. If you look at his schedule in Ohio and Texas, it coincides with the best-performing areas for his wife. He’s still a very huge deal with Democrats around the country, and having a former president show up outside the elite media markets is impactful.
With how he’s been campaigning since last Tuesday, it’s obvious that Clinton thinks he can have an impact in Mississippi for Tuesday’s primary, which is expected nonetheless to go to Obama.
How’s it going? Well, there are two new polls. One, by Insider Advantage for the Southern Political Report, shows a relatively small Obama lead over Clinton, 46% to 40%. But the new Rasmussen robopoll has Obama well ahead of Clinton, 53% to 39%.
One thing that I simply don’t get is why Obama is not using surrogates much more effectively. Why is Obama responding to the chaff thrown up by a flack like Howard Wolfson? Put Teddy Kennedy, or some other real heavyweight, on there to squash the mouthy staffer. He’s a blitzing linebacker, but no Lawrence Taylor. Just drive him out of the play.
Which does not excuse Obama advisors like Austan Goolsbee (waggish Democratic insiders call Ohio, which broke hard late against Obama in the wake of the leaked Canadian government memo saying the Obama economic advisor pooh-poohed the candidate’s anti-NAFTA rhetoric, the “Goolsbee Primary”) and Samantha Power from their lack of appropriate circumspection. The Obama team needs to learn some very hard lessons from these episodes. Everything folks like that say can be used against them and seen, by virtue of their association, as representing the views of the next president of the United States. Even the fact that they said something, whatever it actually was, as in the case of Goolsbee and the Canadians on NAFTA. That’s especially true in dealing with people they don’t actually know. Which will increasingly be the majority of people they deal with.
As I expected, the overall winner in Texas will end up being Barack Obama. Obama, as you know, narrowly lost the popular vote in the primary to Hillary Clinton, 51% to 48%. But that will only yield her a few more delegates. And Texas is a combination primary/caucus state. And there, Obama is clearly winning in the caucuses.
And the final result from Saturday’s Wyoming Democratic caucuses: Barack Obama 61%, Hillary Clinton 38%. Obama wins 7 delegates to the Democratic national convention in Denver, Clinton wins 5.
This means that Obama has already made up all but a handful of the delegates Clinton made up on him last Tuesday. When she won big in Ohio, split a pair of opposing New England landslides in Rhode Island and Vermont, and as we projected, narrowly lost the overall Texas primary/caucus contest.
The Democrats are locked in an increasingly fateful impasse. The upstart Obama has a lead in earned delegates and primary and caucus votes that Clinton almost certainly can’t overtake. But she is not going away. And she is choosing to try to take the inexperienced Obama down through FUD, a classic marketing technique, inciting fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the lesser known brand. By marketing herself as the best choice to handle national security crises.
Which plays precisely into the hands of one John Sidney McCain III, perhaps America’s most famous Vietnam War hero, a man with decades of real experience as a US senator dealing with national security and foreign policy. And who, just like Hillary Clinton, voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. But who, unlike Hillary Clinton, argued strenuously to change the failing policies in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. And who, unlike Hillary Clinton, was the champion of the so-called surge strategy which at last brought at least a modicum of success in to the Iraq policy they both supported.
The McCain crew are, let’s say, not displeased by the developments in the Democratic Party. They like “the contrasts” being drawn. And the ones likely to be drawn in the not terribly distant future, as Obama’s campaign is at last striking back, raising Hillary Clinton’s brandishing of a local fixer who helped a young politician buy a house and seeing it with the “undiscovered country” of the Clintons’ sudden post-presidential wealth and enormous (and studiously undisclosed) fundraising, much of it from foreign sources with major geopolitical agendas, for the Clinton Library.
These are things Team McCain would themselves cause to be put very much in play were Hillary to emerge as the Democratic nominee. But they are still principally focused on Obama, whose emergence and dynamics yet confound, at least in some ways, the tried and true Republican electoral calculations.
The now likely months of strife, as the Clintons look for more hard angles through which to try to pry the nomination away from Obama, is fabulous news for John McCain, who now has many weeks if not months to organize, fundraise, hone his message, and watch his two superstar Democratic opponents gnaw on each other like badgers.
McCain goes to Iraq next week. He’s embracing the conflict, and the need for a settlement there, and will be laying out anew his different view on the prosecution of the Terror War. He’ll also travel throughout the Middle East, and to Europe. It will become apparent that McCain knows the foreign leaders and is very familiar with the issues wherever he goes. Or so goes the plan.
Next month, he will formally kick off his general election campaign – which, of course, he has already kicked off somewhat less formally – with what might be described as a biography tour of America. He will visit key places in his life which also have historical and values resonance in America, such as the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, various military bases, and historical landmarks.
Since McCain has been deeply involved in the historical events of America for more than 40 years — and his father and grandfather before him were both four-star Navy admirals, and thus historical actors in the rise of America from a promising 19th century industrial power to its current superpower status — he has a broad canvass on which to work.
As Team McCain takes over the Republican national party apparatus — getting down to “the granular level,” as one puts it — they also work on message development.
The two-minute TV ad above, a web video production, is an interesting stab at the task, a development in the seedbed, as it were. Produced by McCain’s in-house “Foxhole Productions,” the piece, called “Man In The Arena” (after a famous Teddy Roosevelt quote), posits McCain through the past, present, and future.
The few who have written about it since the end of last week focus on the quotes — actually, vintage footage — from Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt.
But the piece is much more impressionistic than that. Which is why it’s done in an impressionistic style. There is constant motion throughout, nothing so static as ruminations about particular Churchill and TR quotes would imply. The viewer moves through the clouds, toward the sun, and then into the cosmos itself (as in teh film Contact, with radio messages from the planet’s history making their way into deepest space) as Churchill intones his deathless words about fighting on the beaches, landing grounds, and fields, before finally revealing the late British PM as he confers with his wartime commanders. Then dissolves again through a time and space transition as Churchill says “We will never surrounder” into a scene of McCain saying, “Keep that faith, keep your courage, stick together, stay strong.”
The piece’s Michael Mann style then becomes perfectly evident as the opening piano figure beneath the imagery and words continues its insistence and is joined by soothing yet driving synthesizer music. Throughout, a montage of scenes and snippets from McCain, Teddy Roosevelt (who pledges all his heart and energy to the task), Churchill, American history, and Americana ensue interspersed with Mann’s patented fast-forward stop-action photography of urban night scenes and the cosmos motif.
“I know who I am,” says McCain. “I know what I want to do. I don’t seek the office out of a sense of entitlement. I owe America more than she has ever owed me.”
Several phrases are placed on the screen during the course of the two minutes: “The time has come. For a man in the arena. Ready. More than aspiration, leadership.”
An interesting glimpse at a work in progress.
Back to more prosaic matters.
McCain this week has fundraisers and fundraising development events at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac today, the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan on Tuesday, the Taj Hotel in Boston on Wednesday, the West Shore Country Club in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, on Thursday at noon, the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia on Thursday night and the Hilton in Chicago on Friday. Then, following a brief respite, probably in what would be McCain’s Western White House in Sedona, Arizona, he’s off to the ME and Europe.
Perhaps with a camera crew in tow.