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March 7, 2004 - A short meditation on the nature of faith and reason...

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Bush’s new campaign advertisements….

“Lead," "Tested," and "Safer, Stronger" were produced for the Bush campaign by Maverick Media.  You can watch these on the Bush campaign website.  For streaming video try this.  And for transcripts click on this.

A lot of people, like Bill Maher on HBO this weekend and who knows how many other comedians, have been branding these advertisements as essentially carrying the message "It’s not my fault.” Bush inherited the recession from Clinton and all the economists are wrong?  That, and much else, is implied. 

The advertisements do have little substance.  A good discussion of them can be found here:

Morning in Bush's Head: The president's new feel-good ads.
William Saletan and Jacob Weisberg, SLATE.COM - Posted Friday, March 5, 2004, at 2:00 PM PT

Weisberg offers this summary:


Advertisers draw a distinction between product ads, which are supposed to sell something specific to customers, and image ads, which promote familiarity and positive associations with a company or brand.  These first Bush commercials are political image advertising.  In them, the president doesn't tout any particular aspects of his first-term record, such as signing a law subsidizing prescription drug benefits for the elderly, or even any second-term proposals, such as making his tax cuts permanent.  Rather, his media team weaves together images, words, and music in an effort to "redefine" Bush after a season of Democratic attacks and make voters feel good about him in general. 

Like its commercial cousin, this sort of political advertising relies heavily on clichéd images of Americans going about their jobs and lives.  With a bit of re-jiggering, the 60-second spot called "Lead" would work as an uplifting commercial for General Electric or AT&T.  The stock images such ads use come in several varieties: nostalgic, technological, patriotic, multicultural, and sentimental.  This one begins with a shot of a uniformed waitress switching on the neon "Open" sign in a coffee shop before sunrise.  The next picture is of a white businessman making entries in a handheld computer.  Then we see a young minority woman at work; white and black construction workers in white hard hats; a minority mother in military camouflage with her child; a Caucasian family sitting on the hatchback door of a station wagon; an Asian-American teacher at the blackboard; an African-American grandmother laughing with her adult granddaughter; and so on.  What, one might reasonably ask, does any of this have to do with the election?  The final image is of a white president strutting along a white portico in the White House.  George W.  Bush: He'll bring the economy back to life. 

Amid this wash of feel-good Americana, the president and first lady enumerate the incumbent's leadership qualities: optimism, strength, focus, and "belief in the people of America." One can't dispute the accuracy of anything in this ad because, as the New York Times tartly notes, it "makes no verifiable claims." If you think Bush is a great president, you will probably like it.  If you dislike him, you will think it massively evasive of all the issues in the campaign.


Weisberg is the latter:


But the display text implicitly makes a more tendentious point, depicting the president's first term as the story of him being handed a country in deep economic crisis, exacerbated by the terrorist attacks, and now finally "turning the corner" thanks to his leadership. 

This is a selective version of the past four years, to say the least.  Where'd the Iraq war go?  And how did Bush become a victim of a weak economy, rather than the perpetrator of one?  There is also some explicit dishonesty.  The text of "Safer, Stronger" begins: "January 2001, The challenge: An economy in recession.  A stock market in decline.  ..." In fact, as Bush acknowledged quite recently in his Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert, he did not inherit a recession from President Clinton.  The recession began two months after he arrived, in March 2001. 

This is the only demonstrably untrue statement to be found in these three ads.  Tellingly, it is also nearly the only statement of fact in any of them.



Then Saletan piles on -


Bush won the presidency in 2000 by reframing everything that had gone right under Clinton as a given, to which Clinton had failed to add more.  The "prosperity" had been handed to Clinton, who in turn had failed to put it to a larger "purpose." Now Bush plays the same game with his own administration.  The recession that began two months into Bush's term?  The terrorist strike that happened eight months in?  Well, as Bush likes to say, if you've got a problem, blame somebody else. 


Yep.  Clinton should have taken care of Saddam and Osama.  He didn’t.  And it must be those guys at the CIA who fooled Bush with scare stories and made him go to war when he didn’t really want to do that at all.  Poor George. 

Of course you’re read everywhere about the widows of men who died at the World Trade Center being upset, and not mildly upset, at how one ad uses an image of a body, or at least body parts, being carried from the rubble in a flag-draped box.  It seems that they think this man should not use that kind of image to seek out votes – as this is the same man who will only give the commission investigating what happened one hour of his time, and not under oath at all, and only informally, with the two chairmen and no one else who might ask pesky and impertinent question.  I guess they think it’s not fair.  But of course he is a busy guy.  And the union representing the firemen there are ticked off too – this man using this image to fish around for more votes is the same guy who is cutting funding for fire and police and “first response” teams.  They don’t like that much.  Are they crybabies?  As they say over at fair and balanced Fox News – we report, you decide. 

Well, all this pales in comparison to what Jimmy Breslin has to say. 

See He molests the dead
Jimmy Breslin, Newsday, March 6, 2004

I like the subtle opening:


In his first campaign commercial, George Bush reached down and molested the dead. 



Here’s what Breslin means:


… this only in keeping with both Bushes.  George Bush, Sr., had the badge of officer Eddie Byrne, who was gunned down in South Jamaica, and he stood up at Christ the King High School in Middle Village and held it up and said he would have this badge on him forever.  Some chance.  Bush then led high school girls into insane cheers for the death penalty. 

Now, right off, this second George Bush came up with the badge of a Port Authority cop, George Howard, who died.  He was from Hicksville.  His mother gave Bush the son's badge.  When Bush came back to the trade center a year later, he reached into his pocket and whipped out that badge and he had a tear in his eye.  What makes it worse is that this George W.  Bush acts like he's entitled to treat the remains of a dead man like a souvenir.  Now he shows a commercial with dead bodies…. 

"Bush is afraid to let us see the dead being brought back from Iraq," one fire fighter said yesterday. 

The ad is nothing more than another George W.  Bush fraud.  First, arriving at the trade center, he was led by a flunkey to a retired fire fighter, Bob Beckwith, who had come down three days after the attack to take a look.  Bush's flacks had Beckwith stand on a destroyed fire engine and Bush came up next to him and Bush put an arm around him and, two heroes, Bush called out "we're tough" to the television cameras. 

He had all he wanted out of the place.  A picture. 

You all saw Bush play dress-up and land on the aircraft carrier and stand there, the helmet under his arm just like an Ace from the top of a bloody sky.  The aircraft carrier had to be turned around so the skyline of San Diego wouldn't be seen. 

Now he has his world trade center commercial out there and a lot of decent people regard it as an insult.


Ah, Jimmy, Bush is a politician.  What did you expect? 

Click on the link and read the rest, because Breslin immediately proceeds to rip Rudolph Giuliani a new nether orifice.  Well, Newsday is a New York publication.  This is Jimmy's beat, his home turf.  And Rudolph Giuliani comes off as pretty creepy given the events related here. 

But George Bush and Rudolph Giuliani are heroes to most people.  And their faith in these two will not be shaken by facts. 

Isn’t faith described as what you believe in the absence of facts?  Or what you believe to be true when the available “facts” are ambiguous? 

What do you call it when the facts are not ambiguous at all, but you still believe in something?  When the hard and quite real evidence points to what you believe being flat out wrong - and you still believe you are right? 

There is a word for that. 


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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