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Television viewers expecting to tune in to "The New Adventures of Old Christine" on CBS Wednesday night will get a jarring surprise -- the sitcom will be replaced by a show that might be titled "The Old Adventures of New Barack."
For 30 minutes starting at 8 p.m., CBS, NBC and Fox will preempt their normally scheduled programming to air a campaign infomercial -- Obamercial? -- from Barack Obama. This seems innovative, but it's a very old idea; Adlai Stevenson bought up blocks of time for extended campaign speeches in the early days of television, and John F. Kennedy campaigned with half-hour TV spots. But the last time it was tried was 1992, when independent candidate Ross Perot experimented with the format without great success.
There are many reasons presidential candidates don't do this kind of thing anymore. For one, it's extremely expensive. For another, it's strategically suspect. There's very little point in running campaign ads in states (such as California) where the outcome is all but certain, which is why candidates usually devote their time and money to a handful of battleground states. So why produce a national infomercial that will run in places where it won't do Obama any good?
Finally, there's something cheesy about a 30-minute commercial. One half expects Obama to be introduced by a pitchman in a loud sweater: "But wait, there's more! If you act by Nov. 4, you also get the foreign policy expertise of Sen. Joe Biden!"
For Obama, the decision seems to be based on the fact that he has raked in train-loads of campaign cash, and he can't possibly spend it all if he confines himself to battleground states. So he's trying to run up his popular vote count nationwide and increase what George W. Bush used to call his "political capital." If that seems a little bit like USC's football team going for a touchdown when the score is already 62-0, well, nobody ever said politicians were good sports.
Still, it's hard not to feel bad for John McCain, even if this page prefers Obama. McCain may genuinely have thought he was doing the honorable thing by accepting public financing, but his $84-million allotment from the Treasury is being dwarfed by Obama's fundraising machine, which took in $150 million in September alone. McCain supporters can always switch to cable on Wednesday night; AMC is showing "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday," a horror film that might suit their mood.