Features

Tactless tactics

Politics | Negative ads and internet manipulation highlight 2006 campaign

Issue: "Iraq and terrorism," Nov. 11, 2006

If the Republican National Committee wanted a reasoned and tempered political advertisement, perhaps it shouldn't have asked legendary spoof director David Zucker to shoot the ad. Zucker, who directed Airplane! along with several Naked Gun films and the Scary Movie series, filmed two ads at the behest of GOP officials.

Zucker's product surprised Republicans for its no-holds-barred attacks on Democrats. In one, Zucker depicts terrorists pulling out a guitar and singing "Kumbaya" to distract Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeline Albright's attention from suicide bombers outside. "Making nice to our enemies will not make them nice to us," the narrator says.

In another, Zucker spoofs tax-and-spend liberals by imagining a world where you could see all the ways Democrats would like to tax citizens. Zucker's gag-a-minute approach comes alive in a hospital delivery room where a black-suited taxman wrestles dollar bills away from the doctor and even the just-born baby. "If Democrats take over Congress, they will raise taxes by $2.4 trillion to keep up with their reckless spending. . . . Maybe the question isn't, can you afford more of this, but can you afford more of them?" the narrator asks as a group of chanting taxmen march in lockstep toward the camera.

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Neither of Zucker's ads got any airtime leading up to the 2006 midterm elections. According to the Drudge Report, RNC officials thought the ads were too hot for television. Internet surfers have watched both ads at YouTube.com.

The RNC did put on the airwaves a sarcastic attack on Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. The ad uses a series of mock man-on-the-street interviews highlighted by comments such as, "Harold Ford looks nice. Isn't that enough?" and "Canada can take care of North Korea. They're not busy." But when the advertisement took two jabs at Ford for attending the Playboy party during the 2005 Super Bowl weekend, some decried the ad as racist-it showed Ford, who is black, with white women-and the RNC deleted the party scenes.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry used a knock-off of the Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" ad series for a radio campaign. In the ads, Perry celebrates Democratic opponent Chris Bell as "Mr. way-too-liberal-for-Texas" guy. "This ain't Tax-achusetts," the sarcastic announcer reminds. "So wear your fancy beret with pride, Congressman Bell, because liberals everywhere salute you."

The ad debate became especially heated in Missouri, where Parkinson's-afflicted actor Michael J. Fox cut a dramatic appeal for voters to choose Democratic Senate challenger Claire McCaskill because of her stance on embryonic stem-cell research. Fox-who appears smartly dressed and seated, though swaying back and forth-tells viewers that incumbent Sen. Jim Talent even wanted to "criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope." The ad probably became the most-seen of this election cycle, with over 2 million views on YouTube and countless replays on television, as pundits tried to evaluate Rush Limbaugh's charge that Fox did not take his medication so that his condition would appear more heart-wrenching.

Missourians Against Human Cloning cut a response ad to Fox's, asking voters to reject a state constitutional amendment that would allow embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning. The informative ad lacks the emotional appeal of Fox's plea, but, with reasoned pleas by local professional athletes like Jeff Suppan, Mike Sweeney, and Kurt Warner, the anti-cloning group tried to employ the same sort star power.

In a bizarre twist, at least one professional athlete wants nothing to do with this campaign season. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees fired off an ultimatum to his estranged mother to stop running his image in her political advertisements as she runs for the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals. Brees has said that for the past six years he's had nothing to do with his mother and now certainly doesn't want to be co-opted into her political campaign.

Bombs away

Type Tennessee Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker's name into Google and the fourth result links to a news report originally printed in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that alleges the former Chattanooga mayor gave Delta Air Lines preferential treatment in a pension investment deal.

The story's prominence on the world's largest search engine is no accident: It's the project of legions of liberal bloggers led by MyDD.com author Chris Bowers. Talk radio might not be a liberal bastion, but Democrats know how to use the internet. Under Bowers, net-savvy Democrats manipulated search results for the names of 70 Republican candidates in the days leading up to the Nov. 7 election.

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