The Note: Black Arts

As Obama guards his brand, Matthew Dowd thinks his rejection of public financing was a mistake: "The most important part of the campaign is not gross rating points, but the narrative in the free press," Dowd writes in his column. "Politically, on behalf of both his brand and the effective conduct of the campaign, it was an error for Obama to choose tactics over truth. By the way, isn't that exactly why most people in this country are upset at the current administration?"

Team McCain is up with a new Web video Tuesday with the greatest hits from Obama's greatest reversal to date. Obama gets the refrain: "Don't tell me words don't matter."

Obama's first big ad buy is, well, typical. "Barack Obama's first television spot of the general election campaign is so faithful to the comfy cliches of political bio ads that its appearance seems to be a statement in itself: The candidate who won the Democratic presidential nomination by emphasizing his difference from politics as usual is now calling attention to his sameness," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe.

"There was a time -- just a few weeks ago, in fact -- when Obama seemed to be challenging the electorate to look beyond superficial expressions of patriotism," Canellos continues. "He sometimes declined to wear a flag pin. But that got him tagged as unpatriotic, and now he's sounding the expected notes."

At least the quasi-presidential seal won't be around to stick out as a symbol of arrogance anymore. "That was a one-time thing for a one-time event," Obama communications director Robert Gibbs told CNN (except it wasn't always going to be that way).

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder: "Obama recognizes that it was a silly mistake, that the universal reaction at Wacker and Michigan was, 'Boy, was that dumb,' and that they don't think the seal staging will matter to actual voters."

Gas-Price Politics:

Energy and gas prices remain the policy subtext for the emerging Obama-McCain debate.

McCain aimed for a big-money approach Monday: "Sen. John McCain added an unusual twist to his emerging energy agenda Monday, promising to award a $300-million prize to the inventor of a next-generation battery that could power electric vehicles," Noam Levey and Ken Bensinger write in the Los Angeles Times.

"The prize amount is small relative to the billions of dollars the federal government spends on other energy industries," they continue. "But the Arizona senator spoke expansively Monday of the potential of American ingenuity."

McCain is "embracing a diverse array of positions that defies easy categorization," Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal. "He is for more oil drilling and also for alternatives to oil. He wants to drill off the coasts but not in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He supports subsidies for nuclear power and clean-coal technology, but has opposed them for ethanol, solar and wind power. He wants to lower gasoline prices by temporarily suspending the federal gas tax. But he wants to raise the price of gas with a cap-and-trade system that punishes polluting industries."

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