The Bush ads: It’s going to be a long 8 months
Now that the primaries are effectively over and John Kerry has won the Democratic Presidential nomination, everyone in politics is talking about the just-unveiled Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign ads.
Every cable TV talking head, columnist, pundit and self-styled ‘expert’ is judging these advertisements. And you can even see these 3 commercials – plus last month’s first ‘internet’ ad – online and judge for yourself.
Here are some observations about the entire subject:
1) In the Presidential race where both candidates get enormous amounts of free air time on the news all day and night long, TV commercials are vastly over-rated. Twenty years ago – before cable took over the nation – commercials were crucial in lesser races because the candidates were fighting just to be seen and heard. But a presidential nominee gets tons of news coverage – for free.
2) America has changed – radically: Many homes now have access to literally hundreds of satellite or cable TV stations. This means that the ‘reach’ of political ads is diffused. Fewer people see them.
3) American voters are also more ‘immune’ to the effects of commercials. Call it cynicism but voters have by now seen literally thousands of similar ads all crafted by the same handful of over-hyped ‘campaign consultants’ who use a basic formula to make political commercials. Mixed in with zillions of spots for kitty litter, lite beer and lingerie the actual power of these political ads is greatly reduced.
4) The new McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Law mandates that all campaign ads have the candidate’s voice on the spot claiming, “I am so-and-so and I have approved this commercial.” The intended result of this is to reduce so-called ‘attack ads’ or ‘negative ads.’ The feeling being that a candidate will be afraid to be so closely linked to a spot trashing his opponent. Thus, it is predicted, ads this year – the first year under this law – will be more ‘tame.’
5) All of the political world – including Team Kerry – is awaiting the beginning of the Bush Air War. It is almost like Saddam and his minions a year ago awaiting the inevitable ‘Shock & Awe’ bombing of Baghdad. With well over $100 million in the bank ear-marked for pre-convention TV advertising, the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign has a lot riding on these commercials.
1) These long-awaited TV spots are going to have much less impact than everyone anticipates.
2) Because everyone knew they were coming – especially the next round of anti-Kerry ads – Team Kerry will be ready to rebut them with their own spate of ads. And the rule now in politics is simple: any charge left unanswered is a charge that sticks. But if it is immediately answered it is neutralized. Kerry has learned from Clinton’s 1992 War Room mentality. You’ll notice all through this primary process that every time Kerry is attacked – by either a fellow Democrat or by a GOP official – Kerry is right on TV answering the charge in the very same news cycle – and firing back another charge.
3) Bush-Cheney should not have to reply on TV ads to save their presidency. If – after three years in office – things aren’t headed in the right direction, TV commercials won’t make a dime’s worth of difference.
4) So-called ‘negative ads’ are the key to politics. Why? Because they show an opponent’s real record – the part he or she does not wants the voters to know. McCain-Feingold’s attempt to limit negative ads is all part of Congress’ Incumbent Protection Act – a not-so-subtle attempt to keep their jobs forever. Limiting attacks on themselves only helps them keep their jobs longer. It is simply wrong to in any way limit the exposure of someone’s public record.
5) Fall-out: as this column is being written it is clear that the national news media is going into a frenzy over today’s revelations that 9/11 families and New York firefighters are up in arms over the use of Ground Zero photographs in these Bush ads. This may very well turn into a negative story for Bush-Cheney ’04 – and they may have to back-track and remove those images from the spots.
6) Similarly, the soo-to-appear anti-Kerry spots will be closely vetted by the media. If there is one mistake, exaggeration or error, the ad will turn out to hurt the President’s campaign more than Kerry.
7) Again, I repeat: this who focus on these ads is over-rated. The campaign is about the economy, jobs and Iraq. TV commercials won’t and don’t matter – except as a negative story.
Well, we have 8 more months of this. It is going to be a long, long year!