OK, we get it. Barack Obama has piles of money. Crazy money! Appearing on "The Daily Show" last night, he was asked to describe the unusual media buy that took over network television for half an hour in prime time Wednesday. "This is the Obama infomercial," he said. And it was. If nothing else, the 30-minute televised push last night to close the deal with voters successfully rubbed John McCain's nose in the fact that he is behind in nearly every possible way.
There was nothing particularly newsworthy about what Obama said or did during the half hour, except that he could do it at all. The Obama campaign has no history of surprises or sudden moves, and over the last 21 months has come to define itself as a stolid, steady piece of political machinery that simply moved forward toward its goal without significant deviations and no sudden lurches in unexpected directions.
Every revolutionary thing that they have done—from focusing on caucus states to buying out the networks in prime time—has been made to seem like the most natural, obvious move in the world. And what did we get for the $3 million half hour? Quite frankly, more of the same: slow, steady, entirely predictable. It was, in many ways, as dull and boring as you'd expect a political infomercial to be.
But that's what made it pitch perfect. What we have come to expect from Obama is the almost precise matching of the man with the moment, and that is what we saw last night. Everything was familiar; a 30-second ad on extended play, a mural of the campaign's measured approach to the last 21 months. But it met voters where they are right now: taking stock of the man and the campaign one last time to make sure he's got their back. Money may not be able to buy you love, but it can get you gobs of attention, and in politics it may be hard to tell the difference.
The infomercial was so direct in its aims and so transparent in its motives that it is hard to take issue with any of it. The pitch included a demographic composite of every kind of voter Obama needs to secure victory on Tuesday and people who might be able to get him those voters. There were people struggling with mortgages, families wrestling with the high cost of health care and workers worrying about losing their jobs. There were cameos from key political figures in important swing states and traditionally Republican states where Obama stands a chance to win; the governors of Ohio, Virginia and New Mexico spoke on his behalf. Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius and Missouri senator Claire McCaskill brought political authority and an appeal to women. All bases covered.
After the closing moments of the infomercial—a live shot of a typically packed and ebullient rally—Obama went off to tape an appearance with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" and to a rally with former President Bill Clinton in Florida, where polls have him leading McCain. With many of his supporters unable to take much more of the suspense attached to this close election, Obama once again put his cool on display. "I think we have a pretty good shot at this thing," he told Stewart.
But cocky is a dangerous posture right now, and Obama knows that. So while the infomercial had all the overt trappings of a quiet victory lap, Obama reminded listeners one more time: "Don't believe for a second this election's over."
Oh, but how we wish it were.
Terence Samuel is deputy editor of The Root.