THE CASE IN 30 MINUTES…. The Obama campaign’s 30-minute commercial could have gone in a couple of different directions last night, some better than others. I was fairly confident he would rely on Ross Perot’s pie charts — the hallmark of the last candidate to air a half-hour commercial — and it was unlikely that we’d see Obama just talk to the camera the entire time.

What the campaign did, instead, made for a pretty compelling program, highlighting the difficulties facing four real families — all of whom, by the way, live in “red” states — confronting common challenges. The segments, and Obama’s policy prescriptions, were, as publius noted, “pitch perfect.”

Nearly as interesting as what Obama said was what he didn’t. The audience did not hear Obama utter the words “McCain,” “Bush,” or “Republican.” There were no cheap shots, no pointed jabs, and really, no partisan remarks at all. Obama simply focused all of his attention on making the case for his agenda, highlighting the struggles of America’s middle class, and telling voters what he wants to do.

A.L. noted that it created quite a contrast: “Obama’s campaign is clearly about big issues. Whether or not you agree with his policies or think he’ll be able to do what he says, his campaign is quite clearly about making life better for the American people. It’s about health care and jobs and education and the economy. And what was McCain’s campaign about today? He and his running mate spent the whole day calling on the LA Times to release a video tape of a farewell party that Obama attended for a Palestinian professor at the University of Chicago in 2003.”

Tuning in last night, I had a very similar reaction. Watching a McCain speech yesterday afternoon and then Obama’s program last night, I had this urge to pose questions to voters: which candidate cares more about substance? Which has a vision of where the country needs to go? Which treats voters with respect? Which appeals more to voters’ best instincts? Which is willing to engage those with whom he disagrees? Which candidate wants America to feel proud, and which wants Americans to be afraid?

Which candidate is big and which is small?

If yesterday did nothing else, it made the answer to these questions fairly obvious.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.