You might have seen this ad already — I just saw it for the first time this morning; it was posted by a Facebook friend — but it strikes me as interesting, particularly in light of the South Carolina results. (Click on it to see it larger.)
Now, it’s easy to look at this with a partisan shrug — yeah, you’re really one of the masses, Barry. And way to slide right past those pesky little issues like the recession. And are we feeling a little defensive today? What’s up with the capitals?
But this seems to me a very effective ad. It’s defensive, yes, but the weaving together of a rockets’-red-glare sentimental patriotism with a contemptuous, patronizing tone toward dissenters reassures Obama fans that they are on the side of both the good and the intelligent. The hectoring, all-caps, drumming-it-in tone of the denials is designed to convey the impression — or I should say reinforce the impression — that the people he’s defending himself against are dumb-as-dirt mouth breathers who have to have self-evident truths spelled out for them. Of course he’s shouting, the ad projects: you’ve got to shout at Republicans to make them see sense. You can’t reason with those people.
What could this gain him? A lot. By hearkening back to the vacuous, emotion-filled campaign of 2008, he sidesteps the issues and opens his arms to welcome back any Democrats who have become shaky about him during his calamitously inept first term. He can also easily draw fence-sitters with this kind of decorous, non-attack-ad approach — see, we’re above the fray. We’re what this country isreally all about; we’re the good guys. Note the reiteration of the middle name: we’re the inclusive party, the party that’s about love (mom, grandparents, community) and the dream of prosperity. We good. They bad.
This can easily work; it’s a variant of a formula that worked like a charm in 2008. And I would posit that this kind of dumbed down, context-free, content-free approach will be especially effective if the Republican nominee is someone who took Bill Clinton to the woodshed and is now indignant that he should be held accountable for similar indiscretions. That kind of thing confirms exactly what many people already believe about Republicans: that they shamelessly deploy the double standard when it suits them, and are therefore disqualified from being entrusted with the well-being of all Americans.
If a close look at your own performance will lose you the election, you change the subject. Issues, shmissues, this ad is telling us. Who makes you feel good about being an American? Who do you feel good about holding up to the world as your representative? The charmingly rumpled multicultural icon of humble origins who scaled the heights of academics and politics, or the whiter-than-white guy who can dish it out but can’t take it?
If Newt’s the nominee, we’ll get some lively presidential debates out of it, but one uptick in the economy and it’s all over until 2016. If anybody is likely to rally the undecided under Obama’s tent, it’s Gingrich.