Philip Maddocks: McCain continues to question readiness of Hilton, Spears to lead

Philip Maddocks

Sen. John McCain’s campaign unveiled a new attack ad yesterday that continued its recent theme of questioning Paris. Hilton’s and Britney Spears’ readiness to lead the country.

Titled "The Two," the new segment follows fast on the heels of "Celeb," the McCain ad that first introduced the two, young female celebrities into this year’s presidential contest.

The new McCain ad opens with a narrator asking: "Paris Hilton and Britney Spears may be The Two. But are they ready to lead?"

The heavens part in this new Web ad, which wraps the images of Ms. Hilton and Ms. Spears around that of a likeness of the head of Barack Obama superimposed on the body of Moses.

Even though both the image of Mr. Obama and his words appear throughout the new Web ad as well as the previous "Celeb," the McCain campaign maintains both segments are strictly aimed at questioning the positions of Ms. Hilton and Ms. Spears on several key issues and have nothing to do with Mr. Obama, his skin color, or his policies.

"If the Obama campaign had been keeping up with the tabloids rather than obsessing with itself, it would have realized that neither Ms. Hilton nor Ms. Spears has yet articulated a clear stance on troop withdrawal in Iraq or offshore drilling. That’s not right. That’s not real leadership. The American public turns to celebrities for guidance and insight, and the public should know where their celebrities stand on the important topics of our day. It was time to call Hilton and Spears out, and we did. Mr. Obama’s image just happened to be one of several in there," said McCain campaign manager Rick Davis. "It just shows his presumptuousness and what eating arugula lettuce will do to your sense of self-importance,  that he and his campaign thought the ads were about him."

Mr. Davis called the ads "the most issues-oriented thing I’ve seen on TV and the Internet in a while — at least  until we release our newest ad, which will take apart the neo-liberal policies of rappers Nas and Ludacris."

"And I dispute the notion that this ad will also be perceived as negative," he said.

Mr. Davis readily admitted to playing the "celebrity card" with the campaign’s Spears-Hilton ads and "playing it from the bottom of the deck where most celebrities are found." He described the new ads as "divisive, negative, shameful and wrong," which he said is how the McCain campaign regards the global political ambitions of Hilton and Spears and why it feels justified in running the ads.

"We aren’t going to just sit idly by and allow the likes of Ms. Hilton and Ms. Spears to set policy for this country without speaking out through attack ads," he said. "That’s the American way."

In leveling the charge, Mr. Davis was referring to comments that Ms. Hilton and Ms. Spears didn’t make on Wednesday regarding peacekeeping efforts in Darfur human rights issues in China, and due process for detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

Sen. Obama, who has described himself as half celebrity, half not, said yesterday that he felt compelled to defend the two celebrities even though they have funny names and don’t look like him.

"It’s time this country had a frank discussion about celebrity," Mr. Obama said, addressing a packed crowd at the Hollywood Bowl, half of whom were mesmerized by his star power, and half of whom approved of his message. "It unites and divides us, and whether we like it or not, it defines who we are and what we have become as a country."

With his admission to playing "the celebrity card," Mr. Davis effectively assured that celebrity would once again become an unavoidable issue as voters face an election in which, for the first time, one of the major parties’ nominees is a celebrity.

According to one presidential scholar, this may be the first presidential election that is decided by one simple question: Who would you rather have a beer with, Britney or Paris?

Philip Maddocks can be reached