Image courtesy of FunnyorDie.comParis Hilton in her response to the McCain ad.

I wasn’t going to say anything, as a resident of Los Angeles, but someone has to stand up to defend the integrity of Tinseltown. It’s really an outrage that John McCain’s latest campaign ad puts Barack Obama in the same category as our local heroes Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, who provide one of our city’s most sustainable and renewable exports–pictures of themselves in compromising positions. If every American child can’t grow up aspiring to become famous for doing nothing, this country may one day be saddled with a horrible deficit of material for reality TV.

But just when my outrage over this ad was getting the best of me, I was given an assignment from CNN to review the political ads of campaigns past. I’d like to recommend this to everyone as a very useful exercise in perspective.

Up until now, I have remained immune to the supposed charms of YouTube, so whenever someone e-mails me a note inviting me to see the video of a cat on fire or the guy doing the evolution of dance (something that has been viewed an astounding 94 million times), I remain unseduced. However, buried between the weird and the tangential are the seminal ads of past election seasons, which really are deserving of a second look.

You could simply hole up and watch the them until E-Day on November 4, something to consider if you’ve been laid off and are trying to spend less on gas. But to save time, I’ve picked out a few winners to review.

Remember that Morning in America Reagan ad?

Shot in what I like to call Old-Timey Time (O-TT), the ad reflects an apocryphal era in America when everyone looked forward to getting up the morning. Personally, I have never had a morning that resembles anything like the one depicted in this spot. Where’s the desperate caffeine consumption? Where’s the frantic search for the car keys? Where are the whining children? And where are the black people? Yes, one lone black child sneaks in near the last frame of the spot and watches a flag being raised, but that’s it. And if you think those days have disappeared from political ads, take a gander at Chris Dodd’s Senate ad, made only last year. Nothing says Old-Timey Time more than a WASPy barber in a bowtie; it’s a good measure of how far we haven’t come. I’m willing to bet we see more O-TT ads as the election gets closer.

Next, as we await word of who the VP picks will be, it’s worth reviewing this memorable Michael Dukakis spot.

This ad aired at the eleventh hour of the campaign, in hopes of repairing the damage done by George Herbert Walker Bush’s Willie Horton ad and tank ad, but you can’t help but draw the unintended conclusions. For instance, when Dukakis notes in his own ad that cocaine is the only thing that’s gone down in price of late, my mind says, “I love a bargain–coke’s on sale, not bad!” But most striking is how often he mentions running mate Lloyd Benson. Subtext? “It’s not just me, its Lloyd too. If you don’t like me, ya got Lloyd–don’t forget Lloyd!” This hyping on his running-mate points up the weakness of the Dukakis candidacy–and surely that’s something to watch for this fall: count on the most insecure of candidates to vigorously tout their running-mates.

In yet another example of the difference in what the viewer thinks and what the ad is saying, here’s another recent John McCain commercial, noting that he saved America from that infamous bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Hmm, given the recent revelation of the $50 billion Iraq reconstruction project paid to companies like Parsons of Pasadena for the construction of projects that were never completed in Iraq–including a $40 million prison–that $223 million bridge is looking like a bargain.

All of which brings us back to McCain’s Britney/Barack Obama ad and its similarity to Bush I’s Willie Horton smear.

In 1988, the very image of escaped felon Willie Horton was meant to instill fear; the idea that in 2008 McCain’s team used images of pop-culture divas to instill a different kind of fear is rather striking. I’m reminded of this because I recently informed my 10-year-old son I would fine him if he even mentioned the name Jaime Lynn Spears in our house. That said, the Britney-Paris scare tactic may backfire on McCain.

If you have any doubt of Paris Hilton’s innate marketing genius and ability to articulate her brand (something Obama has struggled with of late) check out her response to the McCain ad. Though it’s doubtful that she wrote the spot, she had the intelligence to approve it, perhaps Obama’s campaign can take a cue from Ms. Hilton.

And let’s not forget, the Britney Economy (BE) generates enormous revenue, operates at a profit, and creates employment for thousands of people from paparazzi to psychiatrists. Estimates are that the BE generates an estimated $120 million a year.

All of this comes at a time when banks are closing, American institutions like GM and Ford are hemorrhaging cash, Starbucks can’t turn a profit on $4 lattes, and the Bush Administration is leaving us a deficit of $489 billion. If the central issue of the election campaign really is the economy, perhaps its not so bad for Obama to be to be associated with Britney after all.