I had seen a reference and commentary on this ad over at Talking Points Memo (to which I shall repair in a moment), but it was watching it in this post at Hullabaloo, in which dday points out that McCain has hired the guy responsible for the Harold Ford "Call me, Harold" ad, perhaps the most transparently racist ad since the Jesse Helms "white hands" ad in 1990, that I was gobsmacked.
Here's the thing. Those images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton last barely a second, fading out as images fade in. The image of Ms. Hilton fades directly to a picture of Barack Obama smiling. Do I have to spell this out for you? I will be honest and say that, before I saw the ad, I thought this was a bit of a stretch. Indeed, textually, the ad seems to imply that Obama is an empty-headed celebrity, famous for being famous, with policies that don't quite jibe. That might even be a fair criticism to make. Seeing the ad, and the way those images fade out over one another, with the final shot of Obama smiling fading in over a photo of Paris with the only expression she ever wears - I just sat here in my empty house and said, "Wow!"
To be clear, I want to quote at a bit of length from digby's discussion of "racist dogwhistles":
I think we need to have a little discussion of what "racist dogwhistle" means. It is a word or phrase that conjures up certain subliminal images in those who are predisposed to see things in racial terms. It doesn't mean that everyone who hears the word as a criticism sees it in that way --- only those who get "the code." So, when Karl Rove sends out McCain's minions to spread the word "presumptuous" all over the place, the idea is to signal to the racists among us that Obama is "uppity." It doesn't mean that if you think Obama is presumptuous that you are a racist. You might just think, "yeah, he's acting like it's in the bag already." But racists hear that Obama is an uppity black man.
See, it works on two levels. That's why it's called a dogwhistle --- only the racists can hear the racism in it.
This is a complicated mode of communication that's been developed on the right for many decades. It's not something I just made up. There are dozens of examples: "welfare queen" and "Willie Horton," the "Hands" ad by Jesse Helms and most recently, the Harold Ford "Call Me" ad in 2006. The most famous of all was Ronald Reagan slyly beginning his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where one of the worst atrocities of the civil rights movement happened. Over the years it's gotten more subtle as the nation becomes less tolerant of overt racism, but it's never completely gone.
Josh Marshall has a couple things to say about this particular bit of garbage as well.
[I]t is the norm that obvious campaign tactics that are treated as obvious after a campaign is over are nonetheless treated by most reporters as ambiguous or unclear during a campaign. But in this case it would be nice if that were not the case. Because here we have a candidate, John McCain, who is running on a record of straight talk and honorable campaigning running a campaign made up mainly of charges reporters are now more or less acknowledging are lies. But there's precious little drawing together of the contradiction. What's more, as everyone will acknowledge after the campaign, the McCain campaign is now pushing the caricature of Obama as a uppity young black man whose presumptuousness is displayed not only in taking on airs above his station but also in a taste for young white women.
Not only is he an empty-headed preener dazzled by all the attention he's getting, but he's a (nudge, nudge) black guy who likes (wink, wink) blonde white women (a nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat, eh?). Obviously, the McCain campaign and his supporters will cry foul - how dare they call Sen. Straight Talk a racist? I am not doing any such thing. What I am doing is calling out the subtle racist message encoded in this ad. It is one of those things you can take or leave. If you take it though, you were looking for it, and I mean that in both a positive - Yeah, he's an uppity Negro with a hankering for white meat! - and negative - What a bunch of racist claptrap! - way. Just because it's subtle doesn't mean it doesn't exist.