A Powerful Political Commercial

What makes a good political commercial?  I’m not sure, but speaking as a long-time Ohioan — and therefore someone who unfortunately has had to endure the onslaught of TV ads every time a presidential campaign rolls around and “Battleground Ohio” is in play — I can say that most political commercials are generic, insulting, and uninspired.

It’s rare to see a political commercial that is quiet, thought-provoking, and capable of cutting through the clutter.  I think this ad featuring a man named Elbert Guillory, which tackles the difficult task of trying to convince African-American voters that Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana isn’t worth supporting, is one of those rarities.

Whether you agree or disagree with its viewpoint and argument, I think it delivers a powerful message in less than two-and-a-half minutes.  If all political commercials were this well made, watching TV in October in Ohio would be lot more tolerable.

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An Old-Fashioned Honorable Resignation

Today the director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, submitted her resignation.  She did so after being ripped by Congressmen of both parties for a series of appalling security lapses by the agency charged with protecting the President, including most recently the disclosure that the Secret Service had somehow — astonishingly — allowed the President to get on the elevator with an armed man.

Pierson said she resigned because it was obvious that Congress had lost confidence in her ability to run the agency — and she was right.  I can’t defend her management of the Secret Service, but I can applaud her decision to do the honorable thing and resign.

Pierson’s candor and approach is refreshing and, unfortunately, all too rare in Washington, D.C. these days, where embattled agency heads seem to routinely try to batten down the hatches and blame somebody else for the failings of their agencies.  Kathleen Sebelius presided over one of the worst, most expensive debacles in federal government history during the rollout of the healthcare.gov website, and she hung around for months afterward.  Who has resigned to atone for the obvious failings in security along the Mexican border, for allowing a whistleblower to spirit away a huge cache of top-secret government documents, for allowing the IRS to target groups because of their political orientation, or for countless other disasters?  Has anyone?

Pierson’s resignation reminds us that the people serving in government used to serve at the pleasure of the President and Congress and were decent enough to take the blame and submit their resignations when screw-ups occur on their watch.  Julia Pierson, at least, understood her proper role and had the class to do the right thing — but such an act of personal accountability is incredibly rare.  What does that tell you about the people who now serve in our government and don’t seem to be accountable to anyone?

The Education of Barack Obama

Last week President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly, which he has done five times before.  He spoke of a “network of death” and the “cancer of violent extremism” in the Middle East and said that “the only language understood by killers like this is the language of force” while promising to lead a coalition to find a military solution to the challenge of ISIS.  The President also had sharp words for Russia, describing it as a “bully” and rejecting its “vision of the world in which might makes right.”

Observers have noted that the UN speech represents a dramatic change in the President’s tone and focus.  A National Journal article compares the six UN speeches and shows a President who has been transformed from a believer in “hope” and “change” and a world in which everyone shares a common interest in peace to a man who realizes that there are bad people in the world, that they want to do evil things, and that the only way they can be thwarted is by deeds, not words.  Optimism — about relations with Russia, about common values and shared dreams, about an inexorable arc of progress toward a rosy future — has been replaced by a recognition that the world right now may be teetering on the brink.

Only two years ago, President Obama mocked Mitt Romney’s realpolitick view of the world and America’s role — I thought an unseemly low point for the President in this regard came during a debate discussion about Russia in which he sarcastically stated that the 1980s had called and wanted its foreign policy back — but now the President has come around to largely adopt Romney’s position, and to use language that is reminiscent of President George W. Bush.  He probably won’t acknowledge that fact, but at least he now recognizes the threats we face and is resolved to do something about them.

Conservatives may criticize the President for being late to the game and for failing to more quickly recognize and respond to the threats posed by ISIS, Russia, and other bad actors on the world stage.  That’s fair, I suppose, but I think most of us learn from experience and modify our views of the world as we go through life.  President Obama also is learning the lessons taught by the School of Hard Knocks.  As we all know, such lessons can painful, but we can hope in this instance that they are lessons that are well-learned.