Thursday, February 2, 2012

Contemporary American Politics Explained in Two Campaign Ads

Everyone expected attack ads against Elizabeth Warren when she became the de facto Democrat nominee for the Senate race this fall. Given how she came to national attention by actually working to actually regulate banks, credit cards, and other financial products and industries (you know, the people who caused the 2008 economic collapse), and given how vocal and intense she was in the struggle to create a bureau that would effectively regulate those aspects of the economy, no one was surprised by this ad, paid for by Karl Rove's PAC.

The Warren campaign was expecting this. They were prepared for this. And when the ad first aired they probably all said to themselves something along the lines of, “OK, this is the fight we're going to have.” Sure it distorts the Occupy movement, and yes, it greatly exaggerates (but does accurately identify) Warren's association with the Occupy movement, and sure, it is fear mongering, and yes, it is trying to appeal to those of us still fighting the Cold War with the Soviet Union, but Warren is an actual liberal and that's how you attack liberals these days. It's histrionic, but its histrionics have been industry standard since Daisy counted down the bomb.

But then the exact same organization, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, like a month later, ran this ad (Warning: Watching these two ads consecutively may result in acute Brain-Splody syndrome):

A month ago Elizabeth Warren was the “Matriarch of Mayhem,” the philosophical godmother of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The next month she was too cozy and too supportive of Wall Street. And no, they're not ads against two different Democrat candidates for Senate that just both happen to be named “Elizabeth Warren,” they're attack ads against the same person. These are two mutually exclusive ideas and yet Crossroads GPS managed to hold them at the same time. (By the way, that's one of the definitions of insanity, but you didn't need me to tell you American politics is insane.) So what was different between the times when the first ad and second ad were run. This just fucking kills me. The Occupy Wall Street movement had succeeded in changing the national discourse to focus (if however briefly) on the crimes of Wall Street against the middle class.

And there you have contemporary American politics. Karl Rove wants Elizabeth Warren to lose. When he ran the first ad, the Occupy Wall Street wasn't polling well, so he exaggerated an association between Occupy Wall Street and Elizabeth Warren. When he ran the second ad, Occupy Wall Street was polling really well and the banks were not, so he just made shit up. It didn't matter that a month earlier he presented a mutually exclusive argument. It didn't matter that it was about the most ridiculous accusation you could level against Elizabeth Warren. (“Blood and teeth on the floor” doesn't sound too cozy to me.) It didn't matter that he completely and totally made shit up, as Warren was constantly fighting for more oversight of the banks AND, it didn't matter that in the course of 32 seconds the ad argued that there needed to be much more oversight over the bailout process and that we need a smaller government presence in the economy. (Your ears might also bleed. Probably should have added that to the warning. Maybe your eyes.)

The only thing that mattered is that, at the time, Crossroads GPS calculated that this particular representation of Elizabeth Warren would hurt her chances of winning the election regardless of what representation they decided on last month. If they do some polling in a couple of months that shows voters are particularly concerned about the well-being of polar bears, you'll see a Crossroads GPS ad that attacks Warren's lax attitude towards helping polar bears. If those poll numbers flip for some reason the next month, I'm sure we'll learn that polar bears have never had a better friend than Elizabeth Warren.

How do these two ads explain contemporary American politics; because they show politicians just don't give a shit; not just about facts, politicians have always had a, oh, let's say “complex” relationship with facts, but also about making a shred of fucking sense. Whole swaths of American politicians, pundits, and campaigners don't give a shit about anything...but winning.

And that pretty much explains everything that has gone on over the last four years or so. Hell, Mitch McConnell came right out and said it after Obama won the election that the Republican goal was not leading the country, but winning the Presidency in 2012. Right now, the only standard that politicians hold their statements to is whether they think those statements will help them win. Nothing else matters. If John Bolton thinks it will help a Republican win in 2012 he will say Obama's decision to lead from behind in Libya would result in a long drawn out civil war and then a month later when the rebels overthrow Gaddafi, he will say Obama should have slowed down the Libyan revolution in order to ensure a more stable transition, and he will say it, even though we have him on video him saying the exact opposite thing, and without even mentioning that he is arguing against himself. And the media will still interview him for his opinions even though his opinions are clearly shit.

But. There is something that could be called a sliver of hope. And that something is...Mitt Romney.

Or rather, it is Mitt Romney's inability to sow up the Republican nomination. The reason Republican voters are sampling all the other candidates and the reason Romney can't seem to grab a full majority of Republicans is simple. He will say whatever it takes to win the nomination and everybody knows it. And just about everybody is disgusted by it. This is why, despite being the only candidate even remotely capable of running this country, and despite the obviousness of that fact, he can't seal this deal. Who knows what will happen over the next few years and in the presidential campaign, but Romney's struggles are an indication that the public is approaching its bullshit limit. There is only so much say-anything-to-win the public will accept. Of course, that means that political strategists will just develop techniques so their candidates SEEM like they're not just saying anything to win, but there's a chance, a slim one, that some strategist will discover that the easiest and most efficient way to SEEM like a capable leader, is to actually be one.

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