Nothing underscores this better than Bill Clinton’s turn as Br’er Rabbit in South Carolina. Amid the furor over his race-tinged remarks, Hillary ran a radio spot at Obama which twisted his comment about Reagan creating a “party of ideas” to mean that Obama supported those ideas; she pulled the spot when he radioed back that “Hillary Clinton will say anything to get elected.” She hasn’t attacked him so directly in her advertising since.
Be afraid, be very afraid — of trying to make folks afraid
Most of Giuliani’s ads opened or closed with a grim-faced Rudy in a dark room, his white phiz thrown into stark relief. Maybe his ad-makers (led by Scott Howell of swift boat and “Harold, call me” fame) thought this positioned him as a beacon of light in a frightening, bleak world. But mostly it just made him look like Count Chocula. In one spot, Giuliani rescues NYC from crime, depravity, and clinical depression, all without so much as loosening his necktie.
Clinton’s ad “Free Fall,” launched for Super Tuesday and used in Maryland, Virginia, and DC, is not as fear-mongering as Giuliani’s, nor as spooky as Tom Tancredo’s now-infamous spot in which a Mexican-border-crossing Islamo-fascist bombs a shopping mall. (As we hear the explosion, these words of comfort flash on screen: “Tancredo . . . before it’s too late.”) But it’s in the ballpark.
“Free Fall” opens with a guy in regular street clothes hurtling butt-first down toward Earth, as if he’d been thrown unconscious from a plane. “Our economy could be heading into free fall,” the narrator intones. “With your job and family security in the balance, the stakes have never been higher in choosing our next president.”
But at the last minute, the music brightens and the plummeting figure — oddly, he’s now facing safely down toward the Earth and wearing a snappy red sky-diving jumpsuit — pulls his ripcord and dangles happily as we’re assured that Clinton is “the person you can depend on to fix the economy and protect our future.”
Pairing this stomach-turning image — reminiscent of people jumping out of the World Trade Center — with the shaky economy is strangely sadistic: Clinton makes her viewers endure a bottomless fear in order to deliver her message. Besides, there’s the weirdness factor of two different guys in different outfits falling, a real continuity snafu from the Clinton machine. Beyond the hint of deception, what are we supposed to think about the ad’s Rove-like use of fear? And what about that first guy — does Clinton let him bite the dust, saving only the professionally attired skydiver? Creepy.
It’s not easy being beige
Usually, though, the dominant tone of Clinton’s ads is beige, and maybe for her that’s smart: it says incumbent, establishment, white bread, substantial but not risky. Most ads surround her with people and return to headshots of her listing what’s she done or will do on health care, the economy, and . . . snore. In “Can Do,” the camera pans construction workers, babies, and old folks, as she says, “We can turn our economy around. . . . We’re Americans and together there’s no problem we can’t solve.”