Governing Is Campaigning by Other Means

Earlier this week, I pointed out in The Daily Caller how much the new website for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau looks and operates like an advocacy campaign site.  The Obama Administration can use the recently launched to identify potential grassroots, third-party supporters.  Since the agency will undoubtedly be targeted for being both a regulatory behemoth and a waste of already-scarce money, there’s a good chance it will need such supporters.

It’s actually quite a smart move – and the left side of the aisle isn’t the only place you can see it in action. ClickZ points out that a new video from the New Jersey’s Governor’s office looks an awful lot like the type of video a political candidate might use:

And they’re right.  The ad wizards who came up with this one – just like the ones who built the CFPB website – understand that winning public opinion while in office is just as important as winning public opinion on the first Tuesday in November.

Dueling ads about Planned Parenthood

On his Daily Caller blog, AOL/Huffington Post ‘fugee Matt Lewis talks about why a recent ad taking on Planned Parenthood works – noting that the inclusion of a former Planned Parenthood staffer helps strike an authoritative blow to the abortion provider’s claim to be about more than abortion.


In contrast, here’s one of the ads Planned Parenthood has been running on local Washington stations, most likely to scare the Congressional staff who live in the area:

This ad is effective, too – at least to a degree: it highlights a personal story and diverts the attention from their core business of pregnancy termination, which is a political loser.   Unlike the ad referenced by Lewis, this ad (and other Planned Parenthood ads) have used a male voiceover.  At first blush, that seems like a bad mistake; after all, isn’t Planned Parenthood trying to position itself as the voice for women’s health?  But there might be a method to the madness: the male voice allows Planned Parenthood to convey a sense of urgency and anger without allowing a listener to dismiss and stereotype the message as “angry feminist” rhetoric.

It also might have been a budgetary consideration; the ad itself looks like it was made cheaply and quickly.  And that might be a bit of strategy, too: after all, if you are paying for ads that say you need a handout, the ads probably shouldn’t look too slick.

Revisiting Willie Horton

The Boston Herald reported that a Massachusetts cop-killer could prove to be “Mitt Romney’s Willie Horton.”  According to Politics Daily, a sex offender in Minnesota just may end up as “Tim Pawlenty’s Willie Horton.”  Last year, Michelle Malkin chronicled a pair of violent criminals vying for the title of “Mike Huckabee’s Willie Horton.”

The stories themselves are sickening, but will likely have little impact on the 2012 primaries.  Still, the coverage highlights something interesting in the way Willie Horton’s name is invoked.  In each case, a criminal who was pardoned by a governor committed a second offense – mimicking Willie Horton, who incredibly got a weekend off from a Massachusetts prison while Michael Dukakis was governor and used his time off to commit more violent crimes.

For these Republican candidates, referencing Horton alludes to incompetence in governing.

But when Sharron Angle used extremely questionable imagery in an ad attacking Harry Reid, Horton was brought up again.  In 2006, a hilarious ad against hard-partying former Congressman Harold Ford incredibly led to the H-word being bandied about by a few racial arsonists.

In these cases, Horton is synonymous with political dirty tricks – and worse yet, dirty tricks which prey upon voters’ racism.  This, of course, goes back to the famous 1988 attack add on Dukakis:

This might simply be the observation of someone who didn’t grow up in the South, but pictures of Horton are not very scary.  The ad’s shock value lies in the subtitles, which graphically detail Horton’s crimes.  Horton’s race is irrelevant if the commercial’s impact relies on the Horton’s crimes, and the breakdown in law enforcement governance that allowed them to happen.

So either Willie Horton symbolizes race baiting, or Willie Horton symbolizes incompetence.  It cannot be both.

Now, if you want a really racist commercial… well, there’s always room for Jello.


More of the year in YouTube

In a post on Pundit League yesterday, I followed up on last week’s best political videos of 2010 with another list.  You could call them the worst political videos of 2010, but that doesn’t really do justice to how bad they were.  These videos missed their marks so badly that you couldn’t help but send them to friends or post them to Facebook – entries included Dale Peterson’s angry, minute-long rant about why he should be Alabama’s next Ag Commissioner, a Florida state representative’s Kenny Loggins ripoff, and (of course) Demon Sheep.

After I finished the post, I noticed a running theme in the five worst political videos of 2010 that wasn’t present in the five best: each of the “bottom five” were official campaign videos (and, significantly, only one of those candidates won).  In contrast, only two of the “top five” were released by campaigns.  That isn’t surprising; judgement is often clouded in the stress of an election campaign, and some candidates simply stumble.  Those on the outside looking in sometimes have a clearer head and are able to drive points home more directly.

Another common thread was length.  The “bottom five” averaged 2:18 each, while the top five made their points in an average of 1:03 – less than half the time. That figure is not insignificant: 40% of online viewers abandon videos within a minute.


Sweet Home Arizona

Folks like Weird Al Yankovic elevate musical parody to an art form.  Then you have folks like John McCain’s current opponent, Rodney Glassman.

Glassman and McCain are engaged in a musical war, and this entry is side-splittingly hilarious, though not for the reasons Glassman probably intended.  Outside of a few random pictures of volunteers, constituents, and Smokey the Bear, the only people in the video are Glassman and his band.  Aside from missing the chance to highlight his supporters, the viewer gets plenty of awkward shots of Glassman rocking out.   Wouldn’t it have been better to have volunteers signing along, or Glassman and his orchestra singing to crowds rather than an empty field?

At the end, Glassman proclaims, “Four decades in Washington, D.C. is far too long!”  True.  While we’re on the subject, four minutes is far too long for a web video to get to the point.  Glassman didn’t have to write a whole song – 30 seconds, plus a brief call to action would do.  And speaking of a call to action – why was the song directed at John McCain?  Shouldn’t he have been talking to his supporters?  After all, they weren’t there for the video shoot.

You may be asking, “Why waste time writing about a web video (even a really bad one) in a race that isn’t competitive?”  A race being unwinnable isn’t an excuse to stop trying to win.  With an effective race, Glassman could build an organization that would position him for a run at Jon Kyl in 2012 or some other statewide office.  (With a recording deal unlikely, future political races seem like a safer career choice.)

Wait – they have TV in Alaska now?

Do they ever.  And what a week it has been for Alaska political ads.

Just in time for Halloween, Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign has a new ad with former/late Sen. Ted Stevens, endorsing her from beyond the grave:

The good news for Murkowski is that the utter creepiness of the ad overshadows the fact that Stevens – who was drummed out of Congress under a cloud of ethics charges – is basically saying that Murkowski’s biggest asset is her incumbency.  That’s not the best message for the 2010 election cycle.  Also, if the biggest knock on Murkowski is that she’s a more self-serving than a self-sacrificing public servant, then cutting a commercial with footage of a dead guy seems to play right into her opponents’ hands.

Speaking of opponents, a Joe Miller ad launched this week spoofed the Old Spice body wash commercials from this summer – which is appropriate, because after watching Murkowski’s ad, you may feel like you need a shower:



The right way to lose

It isn’t going out on a limb to say that Len Britton likely won’t beat Patrick Leahy to become the next U.S. Senator from Vermont.  But he has used a couple of campaign videos to point out the problem of government overspending, and who foots the bill:

In another video, the creepy government guy hands Billy and his family a check for their share of the national debt.  When Billy points out that it’s a lot of money, creepy government guy taunts, “Better get a paper route, Billy!”

The videos have received national attention, because they deliver a message in a creative, funny way.  They’re also excellent examples of the right way to run an extremely uphill race.

I’m not very familiar with Britton’s campaign, so he could be an insane, foil hat-wearing Lyndon Larouche backer who thinks that the destruction of the Death Star was God’s revenge for the Empire’s tolerance of same-sex Jawa marriage.  But based on this limited sample, Britton uses his underdog status to make his point in a way that would scare off many campaigns in the thick of a close race. If Britton were to drop this strategy to rant about the President’s birth certificate, Sarah Palin’s baby, or some other conspiracy theory for the deranged the damage to his personal credibility will be dwarfed by the damage he does to the Republican brand.

Britton may wind up underfunded, and his videos may be limited to their viral appeal, and it may not be enough to keep Leahy from wiping the floor with him come November.  But this isn’t the last election in Vermont, so this video and the messages it carries can still set the table for victory – even if it isn’t until Billy’s old enough to vote.

Wait… who’s running in the actual race?

In this commercial, Sen. Barbara Boxer is seeking reelection by fending off Sarah Palin – who not only isn’t running, but isn’t from California.

Meanwhile, Carly Fiorina is not only challenging Boxer, but Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Countless Republicans will take to the campaign trail in the next few months railing against President Obama, countless Democrats will dredge up the ghost of George W. Bush.

It’s an accepted (and effective) campaign tactic, made especially famous in 1994 when Republicans used then-new technology to morph images of opponents into Bill Clinton.  So why stop here?  Why not run against Jimmy Carter?  Richard Nixon?  Maybe President Mitchell from Dave (the real one, not the one that was actually Dave)?

The only thing worse would be working for BP

Chris Kelly’s former job probably seemed like an asset when he jumped into the race for California Attorney General – in a state so closely identified with technological innovation, he was one of the executive leaders of Facebook.

The problem for Kelly now is that his title was Chief Privacy Officer.  Having that position for Facebook is kind of like being a nutritionist for KFC – it doesn’t come with much credibility.

How bad is it?  Not only is Kelly’s opponent using his association with Facebook against him in a television ad, but in that same ad she’s actually bragging about being endorsed by Nancy Pelosi.

The irony, of course, comes in the picture of Pelosi used in the endorsement, which looks to be a few years old and looks nothing like she does now.

In other words, it’s a typical Facebook picture.