Today I received an email from MoveOn.org with a link to their anti-Bush ad contest at Bush in 30 Seconds.
As a little background, I consider myself to be a moderate with perhaps mild libertarian leanings. This means that I rarely fail to be disappointed in some way by the people who get elected via partisan elections. I tend to get squeamish for example whenever the Bush administrations motivations start to appear to be religiously motivated, but I also feel misgivings whenever people criticize any use of American power to make the world a better place.
Because I am never on board completely with either political party, I try to keep my eye on both sides and tend to evaluate policies more on their results than their justifications. Some might see this as an ends justify the means philosophy, but for me it is more about the idea that it is rare that I agree with both the means and ends of either party and am left hoping for my desired ends.
So what do I think of MoveOn.org? I tend to find them the most effective window into the current sentiment of Democratic Party activist. I also find them to be somewhat shrill and rarely advancing anything that would convince a moderate that the Democratic nominee will be closer to my politics than George Bush will be on my highest priorities. I am a member, in order to get regular access to their emails and other information, but I disagree with at least 80% of the tactics they seem to stand for.
What criteria am I using to review these ads? First I will review it based on its ability to influence a moderate such as myself. Then I highlight factors that I find makes it particularly effective or ineffective. I then conclude with any caveats that highlight why my opinion may not be reflective of others.
So on with my reviews:
Child’s Pay - Back during the initial voting period which whittled the ads down to 10 finalists, I actually looked at 20 of the contestants. This ad was one that I saw. I find it to be an effective attack on what I find to be one of the biggest weaknesses of the Bush administrations policies, the increasing deficit. Unlike some of the other finalist, I found that it made the point without coming across as shrill. This is just the sort of ad that I think would be effective if run by supporters of a Republican that was running against a Democrat who had run up a large deficit, but it is unclear to me how voting for the Democratic nominee will effect the deficit other that changing which programs are receiving the borrowed money. As result I rate this as a great ad for inspiring me to consider other candidates, but it is unlikely that any of the Democratic candidates will be able to capture the support of those inspired by this ad to look for a Bush alternative. As for caveats, I found use of the kids interesting like one of the old Monster.com ads, but I always feel the use of children is almost always an attempt to be emotionally manipulative. The other piece of typical leftist thought is the implication that only blue collar people actually pay taxes. I noticed that none of the kids are working in offices or with post 70’s technology.
In My Country - I found this to be another of the more effective finalist. For those who have not been observing the debate about the PATRIOT Act and other changes in the tradeoffs between security and unfettered rights, the twist that the main character is actually speaking about America and not some other country may be just the sort of eye opener that MoveOn is hoping for. Having followed the extensive discussions that have been going on, however, I found this ad as embracing the more extreme interpretation of the changes. I doubt many that agree with MoveOn would object to any of its conclusions, an informed moderate would probably question whether the Bush administration is really a group of religious extremists and might note that the judiciary seems to be curbing some of the more egregious alterations of the interactions the government and citizens. I am not convinced that after the Supreme Court reviews the Padilla case that citizens will be able to be held indefinitely without access to the courts or lawyers. I guess the effectiveness of this ad will depend on how effectively the public has been spun on the rights issue. Personally, I would be fine if the PATRIOT Act were repealed, but I don’t think its enough of a threat to civil liberties to base my vote on. As a funny aside, have I been so spun by the conservatives that I am seeing things? Maybe so. On first viewing I wondered if the building in the background on the right near the end of the ad was the UN. I actually doubt it, but it would be funny if it was.
Polygraph - Now this one is more like what I expect from MoveOn. A lie detector output is shown while excerpts from Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech (I think) are heard. On several of the statements that the MoveOn crowd is certain are lies, the needles jump wildly. I am sure this one feels very reassuring to the left wing critics of the administration, but lacks any nuance from the perspective of a moderate like myself. As soon as I wrote that I did think of once bit of nuance that I am not sure was intentional, but that does highlight one of the reasons I was not opposed to the war in Iraq. When Bush says that Saddam Hussein harbors terrorists the needle don’t move indicating he is telling the truth. The needles only move when the phrase “including members of Al Qaeda” is uttered. Thus this seems to say that Al Qaeda is the only terrorist organization worth worrying about. I disagree, but I guess it is a more nuanced argument than, “President Bush Lies”.
Bring ‘Em On - An ad based on the idea that except for the Bush administrations lies, there would never have been an armed conflict with Iraq. I attempts to gain emotional power by rapidly cycling through photos of those members of the armed forces who have died in Iraq. This one didn’t do much for me. I guess that is probably because I don’t accept as a basic tenet of my belief that the President Bush lied. I also think that the rapid flicker of faces though attempting to highlight the quantity of deaths in fact somehow trivializes them to me. Finally, the fuzzy images of the President seem like low quality web images and I think would be inappropriate for a broadcast ad.
What are we teaching our children? - This add shows children in the role of a politician giving a speech. Each of the children says exactly what most “progressives” believe to be Bush’s true motives. I don’t buy it, but it is a great sort of litmus test ad. It draws a line in the sand and says either you believe this about Bush or you don’t. I know which side of the line I fall on, but it would certainly make it easier for me to root for Bush if this is the message the Democratic Party embraces. As another aside, I am more okay with the use of children in this ad than in some of the others.
Imagine - This one created really mixed thoughts in my attempt to review it. First I thought the production values ended up of the cheesy side and the use of the kids at the end was on the exploitative side of the spectrum. I really liked the ending part of the script where after listing a series of leftist beliefs about Republican motivations, says “Unbelievable, it should be.” As a moderate that will come across as a conservative, I think all of the things they list would be bad, but that they are in fact not true. I found this ad to be an attempt to frame the debate in an unbelievable manner. It’s a great ending if people actually buy what it is selling. Oh, I guess the real ending is the word “Think” on the screen. I found that to be a condescending message that any thinking person would agree with them. So points off for that.
Human Cost of War - Another ad based around the “fact” that Bush lies. I’m sure the choir buys it but I’m not sure it will make any converts. I thought the ad had very nice production values, but I don’t buy the mindset on which it was based. In particular, I as a moderate was put off by the graphic that said, “More than 8,000 civilians have been slaughtered in Iraq.” To me slaughter implies intentionally killed. I believe that occasionally, the military may perform actions where they recognize a chance, maybe even a likely chance, of civilian casualties, but have not in recent times intentionally killed civilians. Furthermore, I am troubled by the entire numbers game when talking about deaths. Each soldier who dies, each civilian who dies is part of a tragedy, but so to are those that are dieing in oppressive situations around the world. Beginning to rectify the latter may incur more of the former. I think those who like this ad’s message are saying until we can correct all of the problems of the world; we should not use force to correct any of them.
Wake Up America - I like the presentation of this ad. I think it is more effective than most as it shows a man hitting the snooze on his alarm clock as we hear snippets of a radio broadcast that states criticisms of the Bush administration. I think the effectiveness comes from the fact that criticisms are presented as a news broadcast. While effective, it lost credibility with me when it stated the president had cut unemployment benefits. Having spent some time unemployed recently, I am fairly aware of what has happened with benefits. From my perspective, some of the extensions have made unemployment benefits more long-lasting than they were under the previous administration, not cut. Ultimately, the wake up and pay attention to these facts is a good approach, but it comes across as condescending to anyone who disagrees with the implied conclusion that we should come to after waking up.
Desktop - Perhaps the most ridiculous ad of the finalist, that manages to effectively demonstrate what a minority MoveOn members are. This one shows a bunch of icons on a Macintosh computer desktop with a presidential seal background labeled things like environment and social security. These are then dragged to the trash can and the deleted “permanently” when the trash is emptied. I found this one silly, but the most telling part is the assumption that enough people would recognize the computing metaphor from a Mac to get the message. As a computer guy, I got it but I think that choice of a Mac and the fact that it was voted a finalist says a great deal about the type of people attracted to MoveOn. If they are trying to connect with the mainstream, they should at least have used a Microsoft computer. More people might recognize what they are trying to do, but I guess that might have implied that a Republican was recycling.
Army of One - I thought this was a fairly effective ad until the end, where I thought it became heavy-handed and exploitative. The ad shows a series of military scenes with a narration and graphics that suggest that the Bush administration is not adequately supporting the troops fighting our wars. This is a message that I could back if I felt another candidate was willing to make changes for the better without ignoring that some uses of forces are worth the costs and many think Iraq falls into that category. Thus we are not hoping to have a quick withdrawal, but one that leaves a good foundation behind in Iraq. I haven’t heard any suggestions of this from any of Bush’s opponents so I think in this way, the ad is a lot like Child’s Pay above. Good point, but who will make it better? The very end though undercuts the emotional resonance of the ad by using the Army’s advertising slogan about an Army of One, while showing a flag draped coffin. This smacks of a leftist belief that the military intentionally exploits its members by mocking the slogan. This is probably popular with the MoveOn crowd, but was a major turn off for me.
Bankrupt - Amongst my least favorites, this ad says that America’s future is bankrupt. I don’t think most Americans are pessimistic enough to be swayed by such a downer ad. I also think that the ad steps way out of reality when it says that the number of friends the US has at the UN is 3. I guess that might be true if you are talking about UN bureaucrats, or if you believe like some that Germany and France are now our enemies, but I think that at a minimum, I count every country that has troops in Iraq as our friend. Just of the top of my head that includes Spain, Italy, Poland, Australia, the UK, and Japan who is preparing to send troops. Finally, my pet peeve of exploiting children is touched upon when the final voiceover is done by a child.
Hood Robbin’ - This ad parodies Robin Hood, with a person in a Bush mask robbing from “us” and giving to “Megacorp Inc.” I found this one to be another weak add. The Bush mask may appeal to those that like seeing the giant puppets at anti-globalization rallies, but seemed really lowbrow to me. The ad seeks to highlight some of Bush administrations spending priorities, but I found that it was another example of MoveOn people agreeing with themselves without engaging swing voters.
Leave No Billionaire Behind - I always feel some appeal when I see an anti-deficit add. Unfortunately this ad takes the tact that the deficit is completely driven by borrowing money to give to the rich who then apparently bury it in the back yard of their mansions. In some instances I have ripped some of these ads for exploiting kids, but I think that the use of children is appropriate for the message this ad is trying to convey. I the weakness of this ad from an appealing to moderates perspective is that it is arguing the losing side of the tax cut argument. Of course this is how most MoveOn members view the tax cut.
Bush’s Repair Shop - This ad ends with a voiceover, “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.” This theme is well matched by ad where a car repair shop promises to put their best man on it who then proceeds to damage the car with a variety of tools. I think the production value suffered a little because the car being abused looked a little cheap and old, but this could be reshot before being broadcast. I don’t completely agree with the conclusion of the ad, but I think it is well designed to emphasize to swing voters that they should examine what Bush has done instead of simply what his campaign says.
Gone in 30 Seconds - I thought this was one of the weaker ads. It uses some uninspiring graphics that look like a speedometer and odometer that are linked to the voiceover. Unfortunately I thought the link was weak and thus the graphic elements actually detract from the point the ad is trying to make. Finally, it ends with a line about driving the country into bankruptcy. I am not sure I buy that so that portion of the add ends up coming across as somewhat shrill.
So with all of that said, which ad do I think is the best? I guess I say the one with the greatest chance of altering who swing voters chances of voting for Bush is Bush’s Repair Shop, with honorable mentions for In My Country and Child’s Pay.
Finally, I want to betray my opinion of the intelligence of the celebrity judges that will pick a winner. I predict the winner will be Polygraph.