The Obama/Britney/Paris ad has become the Prometheus Unbound, the creature that has come to life through electricity. By opening up all sorts of discussion about the way our public discourse is distorted by nonsense, it is, in a way, the "daisy girl" ad of this election cycle. For those who may not know, in 1964, President Johnson's re-election campaign designed and ran and ad, exactly once, of a young girl plucking the a daisy's petals. The sound of her voice faded out as a countdown faded in, and the image suddenly exploded in to a mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. As the sound of the blast faded, the campaign ran a stump speech of Johnson's on the dangers of nuclear war. The Goldwater campaign complained the ad was beyond the pale, and Johnson pulled it.
Since those halcyon days, when an ad could be pulled because the opposition complained about it (even if it was fair; Goldwater was going around the country talking about turning North Vietnam in to a glass parking lot, rolling back the Warsaw Pact through military means, and other nonsense), we have had Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jim Bakker (Reagan's campaign manager and first Chief of Staff, who, before he became a Washington darling and Secretary of State, was a below the belt hitting political operative who got Reagan to begin his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, MS, site of a notorious Civil Rights-era murder; it should have been obvious to anyone paying attention that Reagan was signaling the bigots still bitter about the Civil Rights era that he was on their side, considering Reagan was a California politician; why else would he be in the sweaty south?), Lee Atwater, and, of course, the Swift Boaters. Screaming about "playing the race card", preferably in an aggrieved, even Inspector Reynauldish, tone ("I'm shocked, shocked!") when it is pointed out they are doing something racist is a nice way to divert attention from reality. It has worked in the past. My instinct, however, tells me it isn't going to work this time.
As I said yesterday, the ad works on a number of levels, all of them legitimate readings. Trying to tease out "the" meaning from the ad is ludicrous, because it is doing a number of things all at once, which is part of its (evil) genius. Yet, now they are being called on it pretty much across the political spectrum, and, as Atrios notes, even Andrea Mitchell (Mrs. Alan Greenspan to those not in the know), in an interview with McCain campaign chair Rick Davis, points out (or attempts to point out; Davis tries to get his talking points in no matter what) the ad can only mean that McCain thinks Obama is an empty-headed slut. One of the nice things about this interview, again as noted by Atrios, is that Rick Davis not only lies and lies some more, but comes off sounding really quite stupid. He needs to be out there even more than he has been in order to give Obama a boost.
I think the kind of "meta" discussions prompted by the Britney/Paris ad are a good thing. They are shining a light in to the most dark recesses of the Republican Party's political strategy. Obama doesn't have to do much of anything about it, because the blogs and reporters are doing it for him. This is all to the good, because we can finally talk about the way these folks operate in an honest, open way.