Willie Geist and Courney Hazlett this gobsmacking exchange on Morning Joe today:

GEIST: Coming back to the Obama thing. Does it strike anyone else as creepy? Obama's taking over every network? It's sort of like when you imagined the Soviet invasion, it would take over the airwaves. Something weird about it.

HAZLETT: Seriously. Exactly, exactly. I mean, it's even going to be on Telemundo - Spanish television. It's everywhere -- except for ABC. Now, I do want to be fair, ABC said that they offered their air to Obama and for whatever reason, he declined.

GEIST: Ok. It makes me a little uncomfortable.

David Schwartz, the curator of the Museum of the Moving Image and their recent Living Room Candidate exhibit, which explores the history of political advertising in presidential elections, says that Obama's buy isn't that unusual. In fact, he says that "It was a tradition...candidates used to buy time on election eve," in half hour slots in order to make their final case. This didn't end until fairly recently, Dukakis and Bush I were the last candidates to do so in 1988, and Schwartz says the change in dynamic was mostly because of the rise of cable news, which allowed candidates to get large amounts of free TV time. It's less clear that Obama's choice is a wise one, Adlai Stevenson bought eight weeks of 30 minute slots to air a series of his speeches when he faced Eisenhower, who relied on short spots. Eisenhower of course, defeated Stevenson. What makes Obama's buy unusual is that it is that it will be carried on several networks, it's airing six days before the election, and that it occurs at a time when buying TV time is considerably more expensive.

But this conversation is another example of how comparisons to totalitarian Russia have become as meaningless as allusions to the Nazis -- people basically use both as rhetorical crutches for arguments that limp along without them. This election season, such inane comparisons have multiplied like breeding rabbits, in part because the right has descended into absolute hysteria over Obama's chances of winning the election, and because you can only ride that Hitler hobby-horse so long before it starts to chafe. (Remember when the right used to complain that the left was making inappropriate comparisons between Bush and the Nazis?) Clearly, the media has started to internalize this nonsense, at least partially because people like Geist and Hazlett apparently have no idea what communism and socialism really are.

It should go without saying that Soviet leaders didn't have to "buy" time because the stations were controlled by the government, while Obama is buying time with contributions from his supporters. Obama is basically buying an ad for himself in a free society where people choose their leaders, he isn't justifying a repressive, totalitarian leadership. But Geist and Hazlett's exchange fits nicely with the McCain campaign's attack line that there is something "socialist" about Obama's plan to raise taxes on people making $250,000 a year, and the patently absurd technique of free associating mundane details with totalitarianism.

One might as well say hats are Soviet, because Stalin enjoyed wearing them. The popularity of mustaches, likewise, are proof of encroaching Sovietism. Also hastening the decline of freedom in America is wide use of the color brown, which was preferred by the Soviet military. But proof that America is about to enter an age of repressive communist rule is the fact that we refer to significant portions of the country as "red" states. Now Obama is buying advertising on major networks in advance of an election, (the Soviets loved watching TV, I am told) in accordance with a longstanding tradition of presidential candidates doing so. Can labor camps be far behind?

--A. Serwer

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