Hillary Clinton's new campaign ad airing in Texas, which uses Bush/Cheney/Rovian tactics to scare voters into voting for her, should be enough to make everyone vote against her. Haven't we had enough fearmongering from the Bushies? Do we really want another President who will amp up the color-coded "be very very afraid" warning to Code Flashing Bright Red just before her next election? I don't think so.
But at least her ad -- and Obama's responding ad, which shows how much he learned from John Kerry's error in not swiftly rebutting Swiftboaters like Clinton -- give us the chance to do two things:
First, it lets us see Hillary's campaign for what it is -- a desperate effort to demoralize us into being afraid to take a chance on change, borrowing heavily from Karl Rove's "politics of fear" tactics and, especially, borrowing most heavily from another hawkish conservative, Ronald Reagan.
Second, it allows us to compare apples to apples by looking at two political commercials, first Hillary's attack, then Barack's truthful and measured response, and decide which candidate's approach we like best. Let's take these in turn:
First: Hillary Clinton ♥ Ronald Reagan (and Bush/Cheney). In the 1984 Presidential campaign, the candidates disagreed about how big a threat the USSR was. Then the Reagan-Bush campaign ran this famous ad, "Bear In The Woods", invoking American's fear of the Soviet Union (whose symbol was a bear):
As it turned out (and the CIA itself sheepishly admitted), the Soviet bear actually was tame, and collapsed under the weight of its own failings shortly afterward. But Reagan's "Bear" ad helped him win re-election, because it made people afraid to vote for change.
In 2004, Bush/Cheney copied Reagan's theme, updated to reflect terrorism as the new enemy, in their ad, "Wolves":
Now compare Reagan's and Bush/Cheney's fearmongering with Hillary's ad, "Children" (aka "3:00 AM"), aired in Texas early today:
Now ask: is Clinton appealing to your reason, or to your fear? Is she addressing a legitimate issue in a responsible way -- or channeling the spirit of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney?
Second: Who's Better Qualified to Answer the Red Phone, Clinton or Obama? Next, let's compare Hillary's attack ad (above) with Obama's response, "Ringing," prepared with lightning speed and released today (the same day as Clinton's ad!):
By the way, in case you're still thinking that Hillary "Experience" Clinton actually has answered the red phone to deal with a foreign policy emergency in the middle of the night -- her own campaign essentially says, um... no, actually, she hasn't. (H/T Yglesias.) So I'd say Obama's good judgment trumps Clinton's poor judgment on Iraq, given that neither one has ever been President before.
Finally, three questions (OK, three sets of questions):
1) Which candidate losing, flailing, and on the attack, and which candidate is responding with toughness, truth -- and class?
2) If Obama wins the nomination, do you think Clinton's ad will hurt his chances of winning against war hero John McCain? If so, what does that say about Hillary's commitment to the party and the country? Is she mainly interested in what's best for all of us, or just in winning for herself?
3) Democrats want a nominee who can actually win in November. Clinton claims she knows how to run a campaign, fight tough opponents -- and that those skills carry over into how she'll run the White House. But which candidate is flailing around, reaching back two decades to find dirty tricks in hopes of salvaging a victory, and which candidate is running an effective, efficient, on-message campaign -- managing money well, planning ahead, responding quickly and appropriately to attacks, and generally showing the kind of leadership and toughness we expect both in a candidate and in a President?
Relevant news stories from Time, Time again, CNN, CNN again. The Wall Street Journal reaches back, not to Reagan's 1984 "bear" ad, but to LBJ's 1964 "Daisy" ad -- almost as if the conservative paper now owned by Fox News' Rupert Murdoch, who threw Hillary a campaign fundraiser two years ago, doesn't want to admit that she's its preferred candidate, and is much more conservative than she pretends to be. Update, 3/1: NYTimes articles here and here; the Washington Post on the "dueling ads" here; and another Wall Street Journal piece here. Second update, 3/1: D'oh! Of course, Hillary's ad is almost identical to a 1984 Walter Mondale ad, "Red Phone," which isn't surprising since the same MadMan (adman) produced both ads. That doesn't change the Clinton ad's nature -- using the same fear-based campaigning as Reagan and Bush. It's also interesting that the same Hillary Clinton who criticized Obama for sharing the same speechwriter, and therefore similar language, as his friend Deval Patrick, turned around and hired the same adman as Walter Mondale used 24 years ago, to produce a similar ad. That's hypocrisy. And I'll also ask: hiring an adman from the 1980s to reprise a 24 year old smear ad? This is the "forward looking" candidate Clinton claims to be? Yow.
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