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Originally published Saturday, December 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM



Hucksterism lives

The Christmas ads that showed up in Iowa and New Hampshire — and here, on the Internet — are mostly just more ads, but with a new and disturbing twist.

The Christmas ads that showed up in Iowa and New Hampshire — and here, on the Internet — are mostly just more ads, but with a new and disturbing twist.

There is Barack Obama, being sensitive by letting his wife, Michelle, speak first; Rudy Giuliani, softening his image by joking with Santa, and Ron Paul grinning in the midst of family pandemonium. John McCain reminds us he was a prisoner of war, Fred Thompson offers heart-warming snapshots of the troops and John Edwards promises not to forget the poor. The hullabaloo has come over the ad for Mike Huckabee. He speaks alone, telling the viewer that "what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ." As he says this, the camera pans and a shelf appears between his head and a Christmas tree — in the form of a bright white cross.

The subliminal message is, "I'm a real Christian," and that maybe his opponents aren't. For that, he has been attacked — and of course, he knew he would be attacked. He wanted to be attacked. It allows him to defend his innocuous words — and they are innocuous, out of political context.

All this strikes us as brilliant politics — and a regrettable injection of more religion into a contest for secular office. Americans may demand a president with religious values, but up until now, most voters have not chosen their presidential candidate based on who scores highest on the fervency meter. Looking at the Huckabee ad, and remembering that it's more than 11 months to the election, we think: What next? Who's going to top this?

Then there was the Hillary Clinton ad. If the Huckabee ad connected to the Christmas of spirit, the Clinton ad connected to the Christmas of gain. In her ad, she sits by a pile of presents and inserts gift cards identifying the contents: "Universal Health Care," "Alternate Energy" and "Universal Pre-K."

The would-be president was Santa Claus, offering gifts to the voters.

We knew there would be drawbacks to starting the presidential campaigns this early. We hadn't thought of that one.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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