John McCain has a new ad out, and the guy who keeps saying how much he hates talking about Vietnam is, what do you know, talking about Vietnam again:

And as a bonus, we get hippies! If the sight of them still makes your blood boil forty years later, then there's no doubt which candidate is for you. The opening line of the ad is, "It was a time of uncertainty, hope, and change: the Summer of Love." In other words, because he too talks about "hope" and "change," Barack Obama is a dirty hippie.

In its effort to reframe Obama's rhetoric, this ad is strikingly bleak. How about the passage that closes the ad: "He believes our world is dangerous, our economy in shambles. John McCain doesn't always tell us what we hope to hear. Beautiful words cannot make our lives better. But a man who has always put his country and her people before self, before politics, can. Don't hope for a better life. Vote for one."

There's an old adage that the more optimistic candidate is always the one who wins. This is not much more insightful than the adage that the taller candidate usually wins. Nonetheless, it's hard to see how saying you see the world as a miserable place, then telling people, "Don't hope for a better life" is a way to get them excited about your candidacy.

One of the most powerful features of Obama's "Yes we can" message is that it makes you as a voter into a participant in the country's story. In McCain's telling, on the other hand, you're not involved at all. It's McCain who is going to deliver you a better life. When you put it that explicitly, it just sounds ridiculous. Who thinks a politician is going change your life? You'd have to be a sucker to think that. And interestingly, it also contradicts traditional Republican arguments that government can't do much except get out of your way so you can achieve on your own.

All in all, an early contender for worst campaign ad of the general election.

-- Paul Waldman

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