Is This Hillary Ad Really So Negative?

In the wake of Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania, the NY Times editorialized that Hillary's campaign team had taken "the low road to victory." According to the Times, one particular ad (above) had put her campaign over the edge into Karl Rove territory:

On the eve of this crucial primary, Mrs. Clinton became the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11. A Clinton television ad -- torn right from Karl Rove's playbook -- evoked the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war and the 9/11 attacks, complete with video of Osama bin Laden. "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen," the narrator intoned.

If that was supposed to bolster Mrs. Clinton's argument that she is the better prepared to be president in a dangerous world, she sent the opposite message on Tuesday morning by declaring in an interview on ABC News that if Iran attacked Israel while she were president: "We would be able to totally obliterate them."

By staying on the attack and not engaging Mr. Obama on the substance of issues like terrorism, the economy and how to organize an orderly exit from Iraq, Mrs. Clinton does more than just turn off voters who don't like negative campaigning. She undercuts the rationale for her candidacy that led this page and others to support her: that she is more qualified, right now, to be president than Mr. Obama.

You can certainly deeply question Clinton's remarks on Iran, but I don't think you can put this particular ad in the category of negative campaigning. It does not mention Obama by name and instead is a mostly positive advertisement framing the leadership qualities of Clinton in the context of historic foreign policy conflicts or national emergencies. Sure, there is an image of Osama bin Laden, but should we put the events of 9/11 and terrorism out of bounds for reference when it comes to leadership qualifications, simply because Rove & Co. exploited the event so successfully in 2001?

You can expect a lot more than this ad from McCain and independent expenditure groups in the general election. Whoever emerges as the democratic candidate, whether Obama or Clinton, they need to be able to understand how to compete on the same ground while maintaining their integrity as candidates. I think Clinton strikes this balance in the Pennsylvania ad that the NY Times condemns. In the general election it will take a similar balance in order to win.

Perhaps the best discussion of the strategic use of emotion in political advertising is in the recent documentary ...So Goes the Nation. The clip below from the film features the insights of Mark McKinnon, Bush's chief advertising strategist, and now playing the same role for McCain. The message, as McKinnon describes, was to focus on "Steady Leadership in a Time of Change." The narrative was Bush as steady versus Kerry as someone who doesn't know who he is. As McKinnon suggests, Kerry was perfect in terms of reflecting liabilities in relation to Bush's strengths.

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Mark McKinnon was the genius behind Bush's 2004 media strategy. The Bush campaign successfully portrayed Bush as "a strong leader in a time of change" while redefining Kerry as "weak, waffling, and weird." For more, see the clip above, with McKinnon discussing how they turned 9/11 and metaphors…
Is it the 9/11 cranks saying it? Of course not. Instead it's the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page featuring Peter Hoekstra. And you wonder why we call the WSJ editorial page a denialist organization? In the mid-1990s, Bill Clinton's first Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, declared that…
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If it isn't already obvious, the GOP game plan for the November election is to make September 11 and the war on terror the dominant consideration for voters, rather than the troubles in Iraq, and the lingering questions of GOP competency following Katrina. All the tools of strategic communication…

If fear is a way of life, if never-ending (never-endable) wars are a way of life, if it is a forgone conclusion that we will bomb Iran and spend 100 years in Iraq... Hillary's fear-mongering makes all the sense in the world. Except... will that really win against John McCain?
If the Republicans can make a three-time purple heart vetern seem 'weak'- how will Hillary do any better?

On the other hand, if you actually believe a different kind of foreign policy is not only possible but essential, that we cannot ignore matters at home, nor sacrifice our children's future in the name of cheap oil, and if you believe that that those who sacrifice their essential (Constitutionally protected) freedoms for a little temporary safety will eventually have neither freedom nor safety... if you believe in Hope, and peace as a way of life, and these ideals... you see why Hillary has already lost by making that ad.

Barack doesn't care about 'negative adveritsing' making him look bad ("I may be skinny, but I'm tough!")... he just sees that it destroys real opportunities to work with people for change.

I think it is a mistake in the long run for Clinton to emphasize experience so much. It may play against Obama but how is that going to work against McCain who's been in the Senate forever and has real military experience? It's going to be hard for her to suddenly switch into "ideas are more important" mode at that point.

The above ad doesn't dive into the negativities that Karl Rove has produced. The issues raised in the ad are the realities this nation has to face. Fear should not be used as a mechanism to win the presidency. I see an ad of this caliber as a reminder of having the wrong individual in the Oval Office and the consequences of such ill-conceived decisions made by President Bush.

"I think it is a mistake in the long run for Clinton to emphasize experience so much� It's going to be hard for her to suddenly switch into "ideas are more important" mode at that point."

In the context of military service, Senator Clinton is going to reference her time in the Senate Armed Services Committee and her time abroad as First Lady. She will furthermore link Senator McCain to President Bush, graciously thank the Arizona Senator for his time in the military, but will say that his ideas are bad ideas, are similar to the decisions of the Bush Candidacy, and furthermore remind voters the outcomes of cowboy diplomacy.

I don't think it will be hard to show that ideas are more important than experience. The Democrats are offering voters a discourse from the current president and different ideas are exactly what individuals want to hear about.

By Facetious Student (not verified) on 27 Apr 2008 #permalink

Hm, yes, not sure I can see how it is "negative campaigning" really. I don't think it is a particularly good tack to take but it's not really a dirty attack on any of the candidates.

Re National obliteration, I'm not sure how proudly announcing that you are capable of greater feats of genocide than anyone else is supposed to help though.