Here's a Mitt Romney commercial that could topple the popular notion that President Obama cares more about vulnerable Americans than his challenger does. We open with a quick flash of the chic Windy City Loop in all its glory, then pan toward a strip of bars where metrosexuals are sipping cocktails in impractical glassware. A title card sets the scene: "DOWNTOWN CHICAGO, 2012." The camera then zooms toward the back of a swank bistro, where silhouettes of suits resembling Obama and his chief crony, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, appear to be plotting in the bourgeois shadows of democracy.
Sleazy premise established, the shot morphs into another title card: "MEANWHILE . . . ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF CHICAGO . . . " It's a dreary early evening. There's a well-dressed African-American couple, pushing a stroller through a pillaged post-apocalyptic sewer. Suddenly, sinister thugs emerge from both sides of the street and start to pull heat out of their waistlines. The thugs open fire, shooting not just one another, but slaughtering the passing family, newborn and all.
An ominous voiceover assesses the blood-stained South Side cityscape: In the past 10 years, more than 5000 people have been murdered in Chicago. Families are under siege, authorities have lost control, and President Obama's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has neglected to confront the problem. While Emanuel brought a 50-officer detail with him to the Democratic National Convention, Chicago was embroiled in what local pastors have called a state of emergency. In recent weeks, there's even been a rash of murders within blocks of President Obama's former home.
For the final stretch, Superman music prevails over the sirens and gunfire, and the spot unfolds into a montage of Romney's greatest 'hood hits. There's news footage of the governor signing America's first assault-weapons ban, followed by the clip of him rapping "Who Let The Dogs Out?" for Florida teens. The voiceover, no longer hostile, announces that violent crime in Massachusetts decreased while Romney was in office. Finally, there's a still photo of Mitt pointing at an imaginary bogeyman: "I'm Mitt Romney, and I approve this message. But unlike my opponent, I don't approve of babies getting murdered in my backyard."
The Republicans should run that ad in swing states that are under siege: Florida, Ohio, Colorado, take your pick. Across racial and geographic lines, communities that have been crippled by economic earthquakes are concerned about violence. Persistent strains like foreclosures, joblessness, and cuts in local aid have fueled drastic increases in substance abuse and paved other avenues that lead to crime. Identifying these trends in an opponent's home state is hardly unprecedented — even for Republicans. Think of the mess that George H.W. Bush made of Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, after GOP hit man Lee Atwater famously handcuffed the Democratic challenger to convicted rapist-murderer Willie Horton.
Of course, Mitt Romney would never run such an ad. Even if it could help him gain more of the African-American vote or earn him cred with poor people in contested regions. For a range of reasons — from his fear of the National Rifle Association to his reluctance to so much as acknowledge poverty — Romney prefers to propagate bigoted birtherisms and exploit sound bites rather than to tap a credible attack line on Obama's hometown. It's unfortunate, because unlike the gaffes that have reverberated this election season, the daily dread of life for disparate voters is a critically important issue, even if neither candidate finds it worth mentioning.
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