As Time's Michael Scherer writes, McCain's decision to portray Obama as nothing more than a flashy celebrity better known for being famous than for any great achievement is, well, strange. Here's McCain strategist Steve Schmidt:
"It's beyond dispute that he has become the biggest celebrity in the world," [McCain Campaign head Steve] Schmidt said of Obama. "The question we are posing to the American people is this: Is he ready to lead? . . . Do the American people want to elect the world's biggest celebrity or do they want to elect an American hero, somebody who is a leader, somebody who has the right ideas to deal in a serious way with the problems we face? . . . And that will be the fundamental choice that Americans will make as they focus in on who to elect the 44th President of the United States 97 days from now."
Trouble is that this is exactly the argument Gray Davis used against Arnold Schwarzenegger. And we know how that turned out. Well, you may say, that was California, where they do things differently. Perhaps so. But then again, Ronald Reagan was also a celebrity before he became a politician. Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota, for god's sake. Then there's John F Kennedy whose entire Presidency was built upon the glamour of the Camelot myth. More prosaically, Fred Dalton Thompson was (briefly!) considered a credible Republican presidential candidate because he talked in a big deep voice and looked good playing mildly irascible authority figures on TV.
In other words, even if Schmidt's argument is correct it may not be enough to convince voters that the Presidential election should not be treated a political version of American Idol. There's a good reason for that: it is a political version of American Idol. And, in any case, Americans like and are fadcinated by celebrities. So, when the McCain campaign compares Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, it is essentially saying Barack Obama is the sort of figure you enjoy reading about, the sort of celebrity in fact, that you, the great lumpen mass of American punters, can't get enough of... This seems a rum strategy.