Before he dismissed it as a “gauzy, feel-good commercial,” John McCain really should have watched the thirty-minute television program that Barack Obama’s campaign aired Wednesday night.
There was nothing particularly “gauzy” about the image of an Ohio woman struggling to open medicine containers with arthritic hands, or that of her husband heading off — at age 73 — to work at a Wal-Mart store.
There was nothing “feel good” about the lingering shot of a Ford worker, leaning against his truck and looking at the Louisville auto plant where his hours have been cut in half and his wife has been laid off.
Barack Obama was the star of his own commercial, as is to be expected of a presidential candidate on the cusp of a national election.
But this final national appeal to the hearts and souls of undecided voters — particularly working-class whites in the remaining battleground states of the upper Midwest and the Hispanic women in the southwest — was all about an economy that no longer works for tens of millions of Americans.
There were no Ross Perot flip charts, no John Kerry with Bruce Springsteen flourishes.
This was an expression of empathy, a report from Barack Obama about what he has learned after spending the better part of two years with a hurting populace.
The commercial, which aired on multiple networks at a cost of $4 million to the Democrat’s campaign, was poignant and direct. And it did hold out a measure of the “hope” that has been the essential message of the senator’s once-audacious and now-presumptive candidacy.
“America the time for change has come,” Obama told a live audience in Kissimmee, Florida, in the final stages of the broadcast. “In six days we can choose an economy that rewards work and creates jobs and fuels prosperity starting with the middle class.”
But at a deeper level, Obama presented a chronicle of despair:
Sick people are having a hard time paying for medicine.
Old people are working to make ends meet.
Teachers are taking second jobs to pay for food.
Third-generation factory workers are watching the American dreams that they once took for granted turn into nightmares of dislocation and declining prospects.
Obama appeared through much of the commercial as a sort of narrator. There was documentary-style footage shot by Davis Guggenheim, the director of former vice president Al Gore’s global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth. And there were snippets of Obama accepting the Democratic nomination and debating McCain.
But, except for the theater of the live finish from Florida, this was not Obama the inspirational orator.
Rather, the Obama who came into the homes of tens of millions of Americans less than a week before election day was a calm, reassuring, dare-we-say presidential figure speaking from a room that looked vaguely like the Oval Office.
He was self-deprecating — “I will not be a perfect president.”
He was self-referencing — “I know what it’s like to see a loved one suffer, not just because they are sick, but because of a broken health care system.”
But he was, most of all, a candidate who wanted the people who are about to decide his political fate to know that he understands that there is really just one issue in the waning days of the 2008 campaign: an economy that is now officially in crisis but that long ago stopped working for millions of working Americans.
This was a commercial, to be sure.
But it was, as well, a statement. And Barack Obama’s determination to make it the closing message of this long campaign will go a long way toward reassuring uncertain voters about the president he intends to be.
Most commercials aren’t worth the thirty seconds it takes to watch them.
Obama’s commercial is a thirty minute slice of an American story that was crying out to be told… and that Barack Obama heard.