FORBES GOES BEYOND THE PALE, INTO CHEESY

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Advertiser: Forbes for President Committee

Agency: Jefferson Marketing, Youngsville, N.C.

Rating: 1 1/2 stars

Twenty-five million, huh?

With such a big chunk of his late father's fortune committed to campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination, you'd think Malcolm S. Forbes Jr. would have kicked in an extra $20,000 for decent production values. As it is, the first two spots could use some capitalist retooling.

"Words that rule our lives," says a voice-over. "The Declaration of Independence: 1,300 words. The Bible, the word of God: 773,000 words. The tax code, the words of the politicians: 7 million words, and growing."

Then, on comes Forbes, looking pallid, stiff and uncomfortable in front of a bookcase. "Our tax code is monstrous, dishonest and choked with loopholes. I say scrap it and replace it with a low, simple, flat tax with $36,000 tax free for a family of four."

The historic-document comparison is a clever way to frame the argument, even if it is a bit tinny and underproduced. But when Forbes himself weighs in, suddenly you have an awkward man with lots of money and no presence trying (ostensibly) to run for president on a platform not only flat but also very thin.

While it is true that none of the 104 GOP presidential hopefuls so far has emerged with a combination of personality, program, character and organization to run away with the nomination, it is equally clear that this is not the message that will break through the clutter.

The production isn't just cheesy; it's strange-as in, who is this odd man and what does he think he's up to?

It is conceivable that advertising like this will propel tax policy into the overall presidential debate-which may be all Forbes has in mind, anyway. But it's also possible that the campaign's overarching weirdness will taint and diminish Forbes' argument, marginalizing him right along with the tax brackets he so despises.

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