Super Bowl


Why It's Stark, Grim and Good Advertising

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ALSO: See Garfield's Political Ad Review Below

Star Rating: 3

"Is it a good spot?" someone once asked former BBDO Chairman Tom Dillon. "I don't know," was the reply. "I'd have to see the strategy."

The winning anti-Bush spot that was rejected by CBS.
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Point taken -- which is why we can't be absolutely certain that the wrong anti-Bush ad won the contest to eviscerate the administration. The funniest, for sure, used South Park-style animation to ridicule White House misadventures. The winner, "Child's Pay," merely dramatizes the implications of the Bush deficit.

Attack advertising
More on that momentarily. Neither will be on the Super Bowl because CBS, the Not-Reagan documentary network, declined to sell the time. But the winner will surround the State of the Union address on CNN. Details to follow, but first a quick rehash of how attack advertising has become the stuff of promotional sweepstakes.

Once upon a time, 40 years ago, there were Democrats and Republicans. The Dems really did tax and spend, mainly on social programs, while the Republicans -- lacking an organized constituency, such as labor unions -- could only dream of power and tax-free capital gains.

But then came Reagan, "family values" and the Christian right. Not only did the Moral Majority and similar groups create a vast, right-wing network of fund-raising and activism, they fed off of traditional Democratic strongholds in labor and in the South. The Republican Revolution left the Dems with the identity problem -- a problem exacerbated by the Clinton presidency.

Co-opting the GOP playbook
Vilified by reactionary kooks for his supposed malignant liberalism, Clinton actually co-opted Republican themes. His greatest domestic achievements -- balanced budget, welfare reform, free trade -- were ripped right out of the GOP playbook. And the Democratic playbook was two words: "whatever sells."

Hard to rally the Birkenstock faithful around that.

But then Clinton got caught with his hand in the nookie jar, and the ensuing impeachment debacle inspired counter-revolutionaries on the left, using the Internet to rally against the witch hunt. -- the progressive reaction to the reactionaries -- was born, and the fabled Democratic grass roots were fertilized anew.

Now, boosted by matching funding from billionaire liberal activist George Soros, has taken on the Bush administration for coddling energy companies and big media, undermining environmental protections, dismantling civil liberties and repeatedly lying about Iraq.

Dubious achievements
Hence the appeal of the animated runner-up spot, "What I Been Up To," a slide show by a cartoon Bush highlighting his dubious "achievements," among them Iraq, the deficit, his friendship with Enron scoundrel Ken Lay and record for most presidential vacation days. "To summarize," he says, in an exaggerated twang, "terrorist, terrorist, terrorist, 9/11, 9/11 and God bless America. Thank you."

But let's assume the strategy here isn't to amuse the established Bush haters, but to get the attention of those inclined to give a wartime president the benefit of the doubt in the trade-off of civil liberties and fiscal restraint for national security. We can then credit the winning entry, a harshly lit montage portraying little kids doing hard industrial labor.

The only copy is a title card at the end: "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?"

Expanding the base
In terms of exposing the terrifying breadth of the administration's excesses, this is perhaps not a great political ad. But in terms of the strategy -- expanding the grass-roots acreage by defining the wages of militant unilateralism -- it is a stark, grim and good one.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean Focuses on Shriveled Corn

Dick Gephardt
Dick Gephardt smells Howard Dean's blood, and he's closing in for the kill. Dean and Gephardt are part of what now is a four-way dead heat in Iowa, and-at the risk of general-election backlash -- the erstwhile front-runner is now a high-value target.

"How much do you really know about Howard Dean?" the voice-over says. "Did you know Howard Dean called Medicare 'one of the worst federal programs ever?' Did you know he supported the Republican plan to cut Medicare by $270 billion dollars? And did you know Howard Dean supported cutting Social Security retirement benefits to balance the budget?"

As has been well-documented, the cutting-Medicare charge is squishy; that plan was to slow Medicare's growth, not cut a dime. And the quotation of Dean's criticism is a sleazy cheap shot. The full quote criticizes the Medicare bureaucracy -- not the benefits. But old people are easily rattled, and they vote.

This ad is what they call "politics as usual," and it is a disgrace. Morris & Carrick, Los Angeles; 0 stars

Howard Dean
Poor Dean. Everyone is picking on him. Luckily for him, though, the campaign trail is a voyage of self-discovery. First, in South Carolina, he remembered that, oh, yeah, come to dwell on it, his deep personal faith has retroactively informed his Vermont gubernatorial policies. Now, in Iowa, with opponents bearing down on him, he has discovered that farm families are the heart and the soul of America.

"We need an ag policy that works for family farms, not just corporate farms," he says, while carefully inspecting a shriveled ear of corn. Probably God told him to say that, but it's like, yo, Howard, take a number. Every presidential candidate in the history of the Iowa caucuses has vowed to protect the family farmer, of which about eight remain.

This candidate made a name for himself as a maverick eschewing politics as usual. He does damage to his image, and his chances, by transparently engaging them. Trippi McMahon Squire, Alexandria, Va.; 1.5 stars

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