A notably ingratiating form of demagoguery

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Marketer: Forbes 2000
Agency: William Eisner & Associates, Hales Corners, Wis.
Ad Review rating: 2 1/2 stars

Disclosure statement: We believe Steve Forbes is a rich loser who has bought national prominence with his dead father's money and one superficially appealing, but inequitable and stupid, idea: the flat tax.

He has the charisma of a squid, and about as much chance to be president as he has to be Miss America.

Pretty good ad campaign, however.

Six TV spots from William Eisner & Associates, Hales Corners, Wis., portray Forbes not as a clueless rich kid, but as an articulate, avuncular leader with ironclad convictions and very dramatic lighting.

His proposals are the usual simplistic, Mr. Outsider attacks on the inside-the-Beltway crowd. But in some of the spots he is most impressive making the pitch, and at various moments very nearly charming.

In a spot about the "plundering" by Washington pols of the Social Security trust fund, he even wears a puckish smile while delivering a wonderful analogy: "If you put a pot of honey in a forest, bears are gonna come along and put their paws in it. They can't help it. It's their nature."

Lovely. Then he suggests individually directed retirement accounts, so that Americans can be empowered to watch their personal retirement savings devastated by the inevitable bear market.

The handsome photography obscures his bad skin, but it can't camouflage the flimsiness of his arguments.

In one spot, in a pose mimicking JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he stands by an Oval Office-like window and muses (or, actually, mutters oddly to himself) about the sorry state of society.

"Well, America is certainly doing well on paper these days. . . . But something is still missing, and that is time spent with our families. That's why I'm running for president, to put the American people back in charge again, let them have time with their families, once again truly enjoy life."

Strong support of families. Good for him. That will certainly distinguish Forbes from Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan, Lamar Alexander, Elizabeth Dole, John McCain, George W. Bush and the rest of the notorious Republican anti-family movement.

Alas, he doesn't quite explain how he will employ the powers of the presidency to keep his promise. Because, um, he can't.

He makes such classically contrived political promises because that's what the public wants to hear. But he may as well promise immortality, or free Humvees for everyone, for all his ability to make it come true.

It's just a particularly ingratiating form of demagoguery.

"Add it all up," he says in another spot. "Federal income taxes, state income taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes. Everything you do, they're always taking something away from you."

He proposes instead his trademark flat tax, something "that looks like it was designed by a normal human being."

Who could be against that? He fails to mention, however, that a) Americans are among the lowest taxed in the industrialized world, b) the existing tax code cultivates, among other things, home ownership and charitable contributions, c) his flat tax would vastly benefit the Steve Forbeses of the world while penalizing the majority of normal human beings.

The most ridiculous image, though, in the Presidentialization of Steve Forbes, is the recurring shot of him in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Pu-leeezee. Where does this guy come off Lincolnizing himself?

If he wants to pose in front of something, may we suggest the Publishers Clearing House?

Copyright June 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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