Monday, March 26, 2012

On "Obamaville"

If you haven't yet seen Rick Santorum's amazing "Obamaville" ad, you really should...I'll send you over to Paul Waldman's nice take on the apocalyptic video to watch it. Come back when you've seen it.


Now, I liked Waldman's take on the ad, and I also agree with Dave Weigel about "Umbrage Bait." But my favorite part of the ad is that the horror-story "Obamaville" is set...two years into Obama's second term.

And that, to me, fully sums up the Republican case against Barack Obama, or at least one weird variety of it. Obama is about to do all sorts of horrible things: bankrupt the nation, induce hyperinflation, confiscate guns, bring back* the Fairness Doctrine. About to do them.

Now, if you absolutely hate the president -- and to be fair Santorum is of course a failing nomination candidate who at this time presumably is only interested in partisan Republican voters -- that kind of pitch might well be effective. But to undecided voters? The problem with Santorum's horror video is that it doesn't bother telling you what Obama has done wrong so far. And for most voters, that's what it should be doing.

Put it another way: Republicans are pretty good at running against challengers in presidential races, where a logical message is to not trust the untried candidate. Run that same message against an incumbent, and you're basically saying: ignore what you see, and believe us that you can't trust this president. That's a very, very hard message to sell, or at least so it seems to me. Much more sensible against an incumbent, I would think, is to identify some of the many things that are going wrong (and there are always some, aren't there?) and blame the incumbent for them.

Granted, all of this is quite speculative on my part, and we know that campaign effects are far more limited in presidential presidential elections, so I don't want to take any of this too seriously. For whatever it's worth, however, and putting Santorum aside, I do have to wonder whether Mitt Romney is going to run stuff like this in the fall -- ads hitting Obama on such things as experience and what he might do if (re-) elected rather than on what he's actually done in office and how it's (supposedly) responsible for anything bad out there.

*Fixed language on this one.


  1. First, I think that such demagoguery of the other side is relatively commonplace, though not in ads. So, in a sense, I think Santorum is just channeling the zeitgeist of 2012 conservatives.

    Second, what else is a conservative to do? Ignore the differences a liberal like myself might have with them on what the ideal policies would be if we started from scratch. I mean one of the basic cores of the conservative vs liberal distinction: the conservative desire to maintain the status quo/fear of change. Phrased as the latter, it's negative, but ignore that as the inevitable by-product of a liberal writing this. Rather, liberals want to make changes. Running against an incumbent, as you often note, is a referendum on the incumbent. You don't just have to run against what they've done; you can run against what people THINK they have done or WILL do. I mean, supermajorities of Tea Partiers tell us that Obama has raised taxes. And look at folks jumping on Obama's open mic comment. But, to come back to the point, a conservative running against an incumbent liberal is likely to raise these kinds of attacks, because they line up with their basic core beliefs.

    Third, as a liberal, I see a racist behind every tree. Following on this, I have to wonder if it plays into Obama being a secret Kenyan Muslim socialist.

  2. Jonathan:

    Nice post.

    The thing I cannot get over is the repeated use of nuclear Iran as a horrific enemy. It just rings so hollow when compared to the former Soviet threat. And most voters --- even ones as young as me (34) have a personal knowledge of the Cold War.

    If you had any doubt that the GOP was going to sell this message in the fall, look no further than to how Romney is handling the hot mic incident; for better or worse, that is going to add fuel to the right-wing belief in a secret Obama plan for term #2. Whether swing voters are receptive to it in the fall is, as you say, a question of their lying eyes.


  3. That video is the best satire since Bulgakov, maybe even Gogol.

    More substantively, it won't play in the general. The GOP really doesn't get--at the previous commenter noted--anyone under 65. And of the over 65 crowd, they have to be white.

  4. "revoke the Fairness Doctrine"

    Maybe "reinstate the Fairness Doctrine"?

  5. Personally, I thought it's a hell of a movie trailer; I'd pay actual dollars to see this in the movie theatre. Political ad, not so much.

    1. I'm sending a treatment to M. Night Shyamalan today.

  6. I think this will be a nasty campaign, and I don't expect Democrats to play nice either... Scott Brown has been subjected to ads accusing him of voting to turn rape victims away at hospitals and allowing asthmatic children to die a horrible death choking on smog. So I'm guessing Romney will be dusted up a bit as well.

  7. I think the ad is sort of supposed to be funny. The reality behind the humor is that the intended audience really does believe that Obama's Kenyan Socialism puts America on a frightening path. The humor comes from spoofing the horror movie trailer genre as a way of producing umbrage bait. So a partisan conservative is going to be sort of nodding along with the Obama-is-scary bits, but will mostly be laughing in anticipation of the liberal reaction. Anyway, that's my read.

  8. Looney Dick Morris is on Hannity right now explaining why the ad does not go far enough to capture all of the evil that Obama is planning for the second term.

  9. Ok, after the President’s “After my election I have more flexibility” comment, I think it’s fair to say that Republicans will have more to say about Obama's "secret plans." At the very least, it will be the response to charges that Romney’s a flip-flopper. Maybe this election will be about who's least successful at shooting his own foot.

  10. I myself recently saw a lone sneaker lying abandoned in the grass. So apparently the Obamapocalypse has already arrived.

    As to the serious question, my guess is that Santorum's people either have no real idea what they're doing (his campaign being "junior-varsity" the whole way, as many have noted), or he's decided to (a) ease up on Romney while (b) reminding everyone that he's the candidate best able to channel the far-right id, thus positioning himself for the VP slot or another run in 2016.

    That said, I kind of wish every candidate were required to present a dystopian vision like this of the future s/he imagines under his/her opponent. Might be clarifying.

  11. - “After my election I have more flexibility”

    Yes, President Obama is standing for re-election, and (if elected) he will continue to act as President of the United States.

    Apparently this is an amazing revelation of something that was supposed to be kept as a deep dark secret.

    1. Wrong, Google it for yourself... the context is Obama telling Medvedev that he's willing to make a deal on arms reduction after the election that he wouldn't make before the election because "this is my last election." A lot of people will see this as reason to believe the President is hiding other secret plans from the voters. If you don't think this is such a big deal, I'd agree with you, but it's clearly politically incendiary stuff and represents a colossal blunder by the President.

  12. This obviously isn't aimed at undecided voters. It's flipping the bird to political ad conventions. About 3% of the electorate will seriously think it could happen (made up statistic) and maybe 20% will love it for sticking it to Obama.

    But the best comparison I can find is to the end of Animal House. The frat was going to be dissolved with no chance of a reprieve, so they rained some Armageddon on the town. That's what this ad is like, and about as serious. If Santorum has a follow-up to this, I can hardly wait to see it. Popcorn!

    Extra credit: Imagine Santorum trying to defend this ad in a presidential debate. Too bad we won't get to see that.

  13. Obvioously a left wing blog but let's face it, the looney left still needs the right wing capitalists to fund their insanity. Once you succeed in destroying capitalism, that is what Michael Moore has indicated that Obama's plan is, then the only money is fiat money. Obama is NOT stupid or misdirected, he is on his game and winning. In Obamaville 95% of the population lives in poverty and the 5% rule by tyranny. We are only one election away from that.


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