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Are the Bush Ads Designed to Stir Controversy?

I have just about had it with ABC News's The Note, and all the insider baseball, and the endless insistence on prediction: "Dean's momentum cannot be stopped," "There is every reason to believe that the dynamic of the race in which Kerry dominates will not change," "still, there is a better-than-even chance Bush will win," etc. Whatever twists and turns the news takes, they nonetheless manage to turn it into a straight-line projection months into the future. It's like a textbook illustration of the principle of the Conservation of Angular Momentum. Don't go driving on a winding mountain road with these guys; they'll take you straight over the edge.

But, but, I still keep reading. Why? Because every once in a while, an insight peeks through. Today the Note suggests that there is a reason that each of the Bush ads has had some outrageous controversy: The use of the 9/11 imagery and the "I'm not a firefighter (because firefighters hate Bush) but I play one for money" in the first ad, the image of an Arab-looking would-be terrorist in the second, and the illegal use of footage from the Senate floor in the third.

A Bush adviser concedes that courting controversy by including edgy images (the 9/11 stuff, the French Job, and, now, the Senate floor material) is a great way to ensure days and days of free media coverage to amplify the campaign's message and fight things out on their terms.

The President's admakers didn't sit around for months, spending millions of dollars before a single ad aired, twiddling their collective thumbs. And they don't casually choose the images they use, or fail to consult lawyers and communications experts about them.

I'm not sure I agree with the last point. I think there's a lot of carelessness, a lot of stupidity, and a lot of being really out of touch. The Bush campaign is like a big failing American corporation. It's like GM in the 70s or IBM in the early 90s: They don't know anyone who doesn't work for the same company or drive their cars or believe the same things, so they just can't imagine why anyone would want to drive a Toyota or vote for Kerry. (Oh, shoot, was that another straight-line projection from the present? Maybe.)

But the ads are good evidence that, whether they know what they're doing or not, they have no shame about it. And there's certainly a long history. The Willy Horton ad, for example, was never widely broadcast, but had an impact well beyond its paid life, and although criticized, continue to send their subliminal message. So maybe the bloggers should avoid feeding this beast? Nah, it's too easy.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 17, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Other good takes on it:

Kos

Josh Marshall

Posted by: MattB | Mar 17, 2004 5:26:43 PM

They also seem to be taking bad things they themselves have done and making ads saying that Kerry voted for it. Here, I mean the body armor and combat pay allegations.

I can't quite figure it out other than as some bizzare sort of prophylactic:Kerry ad: In the rush to war, Bush and Rusmfeld didn't even obtain sufficient body armor to protect our troops. And then they wanted to cut combat pay for those same troops.

Bush response: No we didn't. Didn't you see our ad last month in which we clearly say that John Kerry voted for those things?It's maddening. How do you counter it? Beats me.

AB

Posted by: Angry Bear | Mar 17, 2004 11:22:02 PM

One thing's for sure: the press is taking the bait. I'm going to scream if I read another process story about how the attacks are preventing Kerry from getting his message out.

memo to press: the difficulty has mostly to do with your preference for writing process stories.

Posted by: zwichenzug | Mar 17, 2004 11:50:37 PM

March 8th!

Posted by: blake | Mar 18, 2004 12:30:32 AM

Intriguing. I don't watch much television but from what I gather reading blogs, reports of Kerry's "crooks and liars" and "foreign leaders support me" are playing the same way. There's reason to speculate that both remarks were intentionally made for this reason. If true, then the Kerry camp is truly getting free advertising; BushCo at least had to spend for the original ads.

Posted by: cs | Mar 18, 2004 2:51:51 AM

Can someone explain to me why they feel Bush's ads are so controversial? On the one hand you have the Bush ads stating Kerry's voting record and on the other you have Kerry calling republicans crooks and liars. Why does outlining Kerry's record equate to "Attacks" yet calling the Bush administration "the biggest crooks and liars" just display Kerry's willingness "to take the gloves off". It would seem that a persons record is more relevent than ad hominem attacks but maybe I just don't understand democratic politics.

Posted by: Barnabas Sackett | Mar 18, 2004 6:45:04 AM

Slate on the ads.

Posted by: MattB | Mar 18, 2004 8:37:57 AM

Can someone explain to me why they feel Bush's ads are so controversial?

If someone has to explain to you why diplaying corpses for electoral gain and using racial profiles to incite fear is offensive, then perhaps you need a lot of help before the bigger picture can sink in.

Kerry was referring to Bush's attack surrogates--the Citizens United crowd, whose perfidity is well known and documented.

Posted by: blake | Mar 18, 2004 9:20:30 AM

I see. So the official Democratic position is that the worst attack in US history never happened and it wasn't carried out by Muslim fanatics and that George Bush wasn't there in the aftermath and his leadership during the crisis is irrelevant to the campaign? I see. I suppose if none of these things occurred it would be quite controversial, unfortunately they did occur and are quite relevant to the campaign.

As for Kerry's remarks being directed at surrogates: “Don’t worry, man. We’re going to keep pounding. Let me tell you. We are just beginning to fight here. “These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group I have ever seen. It’s scary,”. Where do you get the Citizen's United Crowd out of that? And then later it was the "Republican Attack Machine", but who is that exactly?

Are Kerry's comments all supposed to mean whatever you want them to mean? In that case I'll assume by "these guys" he meant the people he was with when he said it.

Posted by: Barnabas Sackett | Mar 18, 2004 9:56:31 AM

Barnabas

I've no idea about the official Democratic position, but I'm more than willing to concede some of Bush's legitimate accomplishments. The point is that a lot's happened in the intervening years to make Bush's major decisions, i.e. focusing on Irag, look less and less impressive in terms of how to best address the threat posed by well funded radical terrorists. I applaud Bush's ability to rise the occasion, but it's not impossible to imagine that Kerry, or any number of others, wouldn't have been able to hold his own just as well. What annoys me about many Bush supporters is their frantic behavior in the face of legitimate criticism.

As for Kerry's remarks, your outrage is underwhelming.

Posted by: fnook | Mar 18, 2004 8:20:36 PM

Frankly I'm really looking forward to hearing some legitimate criticism. It's funny to me how people are so willing to forget that Iraq is one of the reasons the "well funded radical terrorists" were so well funded. There is proof that Saddam Hussein had ties to the Al Quaeda network and it is well known that he offered $10,000 to the families of every Palestinian suicide bomber. It's also very clear now that much of the anti-war sentiment in the "European Community" as well as the UN was to enormous financial kick backs from the Dictator himself. Oil Contracts for France, the Oil for Food program, etc. were all more important than enforcing the UN resolutions and ending the tyranny of the dictator.

I agree that it isn't unimaginable that other Democrats would have risen to the occasion as Bush did in the aftermath of 9/11 but I can't imagine Gore or the current batch running for president (with the exception of Lieberman) would have in light of the glee with which the Democrats greeted the news of Spain immediately caving to the terrorists after the attacks in Madrid. (Let's not forget that Osama Bin Laden built scools too, what a good man.)

This war on terror is far from over but Kerry views it as a law enforcement issue just as the Clinton administration did. As you probably know, the Clinton Administration knew exactly where Bin Laden was and had several opportunities to get him but "there wasn't enough evidence" to move on him. Look what that got us.

You are right though. There are Democrats that view this differently but the choice is between Bush and Kerry right now. Given that choice Bush wins hands down on security.

Posted by: Barnabas Sackett | Mar 19, 2004 6:23:56 AM

Barnabas,

Why does Bush win hands down on security? We're spending billions in an unnecessary war, and doing nearly nothing to secure our ports, nothing at all for rail and subways. We aren't any safer now than we were on Sept. 10, and creating new terrorists by the boatload.

Posted by: Melanie | Mar 19, 2004 1:47:02 PM

Can Mr. Sackett explain to me why he thinks Kerry's remarks are so controversial? Kerry's remarks about "crooks and liars" are attacks on this administration's record. Calling lying crooks "lying crooks" is merely truthful.

As for the rest of the issues, I look forward to seeing President Bush accept Senator Kerry's invitation to discuss them publicly.

Posted by: Paul | Mar 19, 2004 2:30:36 PM

Paul, you're use of reason is quite impressive. I can only hope you and your candidate continue to exhibit this level of mature statesmanship.

Posted by: Barnabas Sackett | Mar 22, 2004 9:10:07 AM

Thanks. I learned everything I know from watching the Bush campaign operate in South Carolina in 2000.

Now, if you care to argue that Mr. Bush isn't a waffler, an incompetent, a coward and a pathological liar, well, be my guest.

Posted by: Paul | Mar 22, 2004 9:26:23 AM

Barnabas,

Hope you enjoyed 60 Minutes last night. Har Har Har!

Posted by: butthead | Mar 22, 2004 10:45:11 AM

Hmm. I wonder why Mr. Clark was fired in the first place? I wonder if CBS has a stake in the success of his book. And I wonder what Paul is talking about.

Still nothing but unsubstantiated invective, nothing new.

Posted by: Barnabas Sackett | Mar 22, 2004 11:47:19 AM

"Nothing but unsubstantiated invective" is another nice description of the current administration. Mind if I use it?

Posted by: Paul | Mar 23, 2004 8:36:23 AM

It looks like you're running on the "I know you are but what am I?" platform, Paul.

Posted by: Barnabas Sackett | Mar 23, 2004 1:12:18 PM

Barnabas

Still wondering why Clarke was "fired." Masterful performance in the face of "unsubstantiated invective" don't you think?

Posted by: fnook | Mar 25, 2004 9:22:28 PM

I agree. I was amazed at how easily Clark was able to contradict himself on so many things, and all while being under oath. I enjoyed his performance on Larry King. What a stand-up, righteous man of character he proved himself when he blamed 9/11 on Condi Rice not holding enough meetings. But in her defense, she had never even heard of Al Quaeda until she met the brilliant Mr. Clark.

You are right however. I mispoke when I said he was fired when he did in fact resign from his post. I don't find it contradictory at all that Clark's resignation letter was full of praise for the presidents knowledge and leadership throughout the time Clark worked there. Not in the least bit. As Clark said, and I paraphrase, when you work in Washington you say what you need to say to stay employed.

I wonder what town he works in now... and who he's working for.... Hmmm... No matter, he put on a tremendous "performance" and I believe every word he said because Katie Couric has given me everything I need to know about it.

Those crooked lying Republicans!! I weep for what they are doing to that poor honest man and this country. To say nothing of the children!!

Those rich racist Nazi monsters.

Now excuse me, I have to go to MoveOn.org and delude myself some more.

Posted by: Barnabas Sackett | Mar 26, 2004 1:38:57 PM

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Posted by: Barnabas | Aug 28, 2004 8:24:48 PM