It is axiomatic that politics can be a dirty business – especially where so-called negative ads are concerned. Lots of people claim not to like them and argue they corrode the electoral process. Yet because they hit so hard, almost everyone uses them.
No one should overlook their usefulness in forcing voters to make a choice between competing visions of what candidates believe about government, about what it is supposed to permit and about what government should do. Usually though, the ones complaining the loudest are the ones who are on the receiving end of the punch. They yell because it hurts.
When I was a Washington whelp, a colleague told me a campaign war story about negative ads that I have never forgotten because it was so instructive. It seems he was working on a mayoral race out west where one of the issues was whether unionized public employees would be granted the right to strike.
His candidate opposed the measure, and was counting on his opposition to help him win the election. To drive the point home, they ran an ad that showed firefighters standing by holding picket signs while behind them a building burned to the ground.
The fact that it made its case so clearly that even a blind man could see the potential implications of permitting public employee unions to strike caused it to be branded as controversial and denounced by the usual suspects.
The campaign even ended up believing its own supporters didn't like it. They received so many calls from people claiming to be supporters who said it was offensive and demanded it be taken down that it was taken off the air. It was only later, after the candidate lost the race and it was too late to do anything about it, that they learned the calls were largely coming from people who supported what the ad was making the case against.
The ad was effective because the imagery was so powerful. The campaign unfortunately lacked the courage of its convictions and failed to follow through.
Jumping ahead many years, a group called Generation Opportunity has a couple of ads running against Obamacare targeted at younger audiences that are so powerful, so on point, that there's a pile-on going on to try getting them off the air.
If you haven't seen them, one features a woman receiving a very personal sort of medical exam by a rather creepy looking Uncle Sam. The other, which utilizes the same basic theme, is targeted at men.
"Foul!" proclaim the critics. It's unfair. It's creepy. It's over the line, off the cliff, beyond the boundaries of good taste. That's all true, except it's not the ads that are unfair or over the line. It's Obamacare itself that's "creepy."
"Obamacare supporters are using millions of taxpayer dollars in an attempt to brainwash my generation into signing up for an expensive, unfair, and, quite frankly, creepy pyramid scheme," Evan Feinberg, the president of the group behind the spots, said in a release. "We want young people to know they have options — including the ability to opt out of Obamacare by paying a relatively small penalty," Feinberg added. "Opting out of Obamacare is the cheapest, smartest decision for my generation."
What Feinberg and his group are doing is exactly what all the other conservative groups who want to see Obamacare defunded by the continuing resolution currently making its way through the United States Senate should be doing. Hard-hitting truthful ads with plenty of shock value are exactly what is needed to re-awaken the American people to the coming disaster that is Obamacare.
Rather than pounding on House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, conservative leaders and United States senators who want to smother Obamacare with a pillow by defunding it, rather than simply let it continue on its current path toward a long, slow, lingering death, should be huddling with media consultants and phoning donors round the clock to raise the millions needed to move the votes of Senate Democrats who are vulnerable in the next election (and even a few who aren't).
For some inexplicable reason, too many people have decided that this fight is going to be won or lost in the U.S. House of Representatives, where an overwhelming and bipartisan majority voted Friday to defund the program. The problem is in the Senate, where Harry Reid and the pro-Obamacare Democrats, for the moment, are in control. No one yet knows whether the effort to defund Obamacare care will require 41 votes, which the Republicans have by themselves, or 51 votes or 60 votes, which means they need to win over more than a few Democrats.
They way to do that is through the deployment of blunt, effective political force directed at people who are currently not for defunding – and handing the president an embarrassing loss – but need to be made afraid to be against it. Generation Opportunity is pointing the way. They're not the ones who made Uncle Sam "creepy" and overly-intrusive; the people who voted to pass Obamacare did that. Now is the time to remind the voters just what they didn't like about it before and what they won't like about it once the program is fully on line, whenever that may be.