The alternative is the schmaltzy spot where Ford's opponent, Republican Bob Corker, trots out his teenage daughters to swear their father is a great guy, or the excruciatingly earnest one where he gazes into his mother's eyes and confides that, as mayor of Chattanooga, he cut violent crime by 50 percent (which the FBI says is not true). Those ads don't make you want to vote for Bob Corker. They make you want to hang yourself.
For all the Democratic complaints, the Playboy ad functioned as a hanging curveball for Ford, a 36-year-old bachelor whose response was: "You know your opponent is scared when his main opposition against you is, 'My opponent likes girls.'" For a guy who has made a point of talking about Jesus, it was the perfect opportunity to extend his appeal to the sinners of Tennessee.
But the main value of the ad was to provide some relief from the phony sincerity and headache-inducing nastiness that suffuse most election commercials. Truly clever ads are rare in any election. But, laments Evan Tracey, head of TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, which researches political advertising, "This year has been one of the least humorous years I remember."
Aside from the Ford spot, there have been a few respites. Democrat Ned Lamont, running for the Senate in Connecticut, pre-empted his opponent with a spoof attack ad saying "Meet Ned Lamont. He can't make a decent cup of coffee." Kinky Friedman, an independent candidate for governor of Texas, had a spot in which he announced his border policy: "I'll keep us out of war with Oklahoma."
None of these guys is going to host the Oscars, but if it's a choice between mediocre jokes and testimonials from daughters, I'll go with the jokes. Amid the usual election screeching, this sort of change reminds me of the scene in "Ocean's Eleven" where ex-husband George Clooney, just out of prison, asks Julia Roberts if her new beau makes her laugh. Her answer? "He doesn't make me cry."