Mayor Mike’s Super Bowl Selfie

Facebook can be pretty jarring these days.  You’re scrolling through posts about your friend’s great trip to Italy, or the impressive honor a colleague received from her alma mater, or the fine paintings other friends have created, or pictures of kids and dogs and home remodeling projects . . . and then suddenly you’re confronted with overt political ads.  They stick out like a sore thumb.

Consider this Facebook ad for former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg that appeared on my news feed recently.  He apparently has bought ad time for the Super Bowl game, but he wants to encourage people to go to some other page to see the ad even before game time — and as a result the friends on Facebook have to see this crudely photo-shopped image of a grim Mayor Mike staring into the distance, sleeves rolled up as politico sleeves always are, towering over a football stadium, with his foot on a football.  It’s like a gigantic political selfie.  (And it might be tone deaf, besides — if you’re a football fan, you certainly don’t think that anyone is bigger than the game itself, and if you’re not a football fan, you probably don’t want anyone to remind you that the Super Bowl will be dominating water cooler conversations come Monday.)

Facebook has always been a political forum of sorts, as people have posted comments and memes about the political events of the day.  But we seem to have moved into a new era where it’s not just Facebook friends posting their political views, but also the candidates themselves barging into your news feed.  It’s like a group of people standing and talking and minding their own business when an overly caffeinated campaign volunteer butts in and starts pushing fliers into your hand and talking about how awful the opposing candidate is.  To me, at least, overt Facebook political ads like Mayor Mike’s Super Bowl Selfie seem awfully intrusive, and not effective for that reason.

As time has passed Facebook has become a lot more commercialized and ad-oriented, and now it’s becoming more politicized, too.  I prefer the old dog and kid photo days.

 

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.

I’m Not Going To Vote For “Fighters” Anymore

I’ve got friends who occupy just about every niche along the political spectrum.  For once, almost everyone seems to be united in one thought:  we all agree that the recent “fiscal cliff” scenario, and the hash house legislation that “resolved” it, are an infuriating embarrassment for our country.  Everyone seems to recognize that the hastily brokered bill, with its special deals for well-heeled special interests, just illustrates how bad things have gotten in Washington, D.C.

Why has this happened?  There are a lot of reasons, of course, but I think one significant cause is that we’ve changed how we think about our political leaders and what they should be doing.  What attributes are featured in political ads these days?  Democrat or Republican, the candidate is always portrayed as a “fighter” who will “fight” for his constituents in opposing unnamed forces of evil.  Important qualities like thoughtfulness, cool deliberation, and attention to detail are ignored.  When was the last time you saw a candidate in a political ad sitting and reading something?  Instead, they’re always out, talking, talking, talking to groups, and vigorously gesturing as they are doing so.

We need legislators who understand the true importance of their role and who have pride in their legislative bodies and in their offices.  We need people who recognize that laws that will govern the affairs of more than 300 million Americans have to be carefully considered and can’t be cobbled together in a back room huddle of Joe Biden and a few congressional leaders.

In reality, too, most of the “fighters” who currently hold office really are sheep.  They listen to how their party leadership tells them to vote, and then they do it, even if it means they don’t even read whatever last-minute, lobbied-up deal they are voting on.  Can you imagine the Lincolns and Clays and Websters of the past — or any legislator with an ounce of self-respect, for that matter — accepting these legislative practices, which have now become so routine?  A real fighter for our system would refuse to participate in such shenanigans.

I’m not going to vote for phony “fighters” any more.  In fact, I’ll make this pledge:  candidates whose commercials extoll their qualities as “fighters” will be automatically disqualified from further consideration.  Our country badly needs reasoned solutions, not more pointless name-calling and legislative brawls undertaken in the name of “fighting” for constituents.  We need readers and thinkers, not “fighters.”  “Fighters” look for fights; readers and thinkers look for solutions — and solutions is what we really need.

Three Debates Down, Two Weeks To Go

With all three presidential debates in the books, we can fairly ask:  what is the role of debates in a modern election?  According to the polls, the pundits, and the talk about momentum, the first debate this year was a significant game-changer in favor of Mitt Romney.  Why?  Was it because President Obama turned in a performance generally regarded as desultory, or was it something else?

I didn’t think the President’s performance during the first debate was as bad as it has been depicted to be.  I think, instead, the key point is that people forgot the presidential debates are one of the few political events that are unfiltered.  The candidates get a rare opportunity to speak to a national audience, in an unscripted setting, without any yakking by pundits or talking heads.  And the national TV audience for the debate, moreover, is interested enough to pick a presidential debate from all other programming options in the modern video world, and therefore probably consists mostly of people who are likely to vote.

In this election, President Obama’s campaign strategy had been to run countless attack ads painting Mitt Romney as a heartless, out-of-touch moneybags who was George W. Bush, Jr.  When all you saw was the ads, the strategy worked fine.  But Romney’s debate performance was inconsistent with the ads.  People watching thought:  “Hey, this guy isn’t so bad.  He seems pretty reasonable and knowledgeable.  Maybe he really can get us out of this mess.”  And with that unfiltered realization, millions of dollars in negative ad buy by the President’s campaign went out the window.  In fact, Romney’s performance was so contrary to the ads that it probably not only helped Romney but also had a negative impact on the credibility of the Obama campaign commercials going forward.

Another reality is that the after-debate period is longer and more diffuse.  People get their sense of how the debates went not just from a few talking heads on the major networks, but from countless TV stations, blogs, comedy shows, Twitter snarf, and social media sites.  It may take days, and a few choice “Facebook ads” or Daily Show mocks or heavily reposted blog items, before people settle on what really happened.  People in the spin room immediately after the debate no longer control public opinion, if they ever did.

In this election, we now turn to the “ground game” and the contest of which campaign can do a better job of getting their supporters off their duffs and out to the polls.  Political operatives, however, will no doubt study the debates in the 2012 campaign and draw some significant conclusions.  First, if you are going to go negative on your opponent, make sure you aren’t attacking on character or personality grounds that can be readily disproven in a 90-minute debate; otherwise, you will be flushing your hard-earned campaign contributions down the tubes.  Second, don’t forget the after-debate period.  As those precious undecided voters are trying to decide who did better, they’ll be looking at a lot of things — and if your candidate came across as disinterested and disengaged, or clown-like, or phony, it will eventually be detected and outed . . . and that will ultimately be the prevailing view of the masses.

Dodging Incoming Fire In Battleground Ohio

Here in Battleground Ohio, we’re hunkered down.  For months, we’ve been battered by the attack ads, the ceaseless motorcades, and the haphazard, inexplicable appearance of a TV anchor or minor celebrity.

But now, with the end of the campaign in sight, it looks like the fight over Battleground Ohio is going to get even more fierce — and that is a scary proposition for those of us in the field of fire.  The ad spending in the Buckeye State has been nothing short of extraordinary, as the National Journal‘s ongoing chart indicates, and it obviously is growing.  The reason is that the roster of “swing” states seems to be narrowing, but Ohio remains squarely in the crosshairs.  With Mitt Romney’s recent surge, the Republican ticket is increasingly focused on Ohio as a state that might be the difference maker, and the Obama campaign is doing whatever it can to hold onto our state’s precious electoral votes.

So here in Battleground Ohio, we’re steeled for the next wave of attack.

We recognize that if you are going to walk outside, you have to be prepared to dart across a no-man’s land of pollsters, candidates flipping burgers at your favorite diner, random campaign “surrogates” cluttering every street corner, and insistent campaign volunteers.  We understand that the next call on our phone will almost certainly be part of a broad-based robocall assault and that the next commercial on the football game will be part of a new offensive.  We know that we can’t express any political opinion without catching some serious flak from friends and colleagues who support the other guy.  We’re tired and shellshocked, and when you walk down the street you see fellow citizens with that grim-faced, wild-eyed, had-enough-with-campaigns-and-ready-to-snap-at-any-moment look about them.  We just want the fighting to stop so we can be relieved of our hellish duty and go back to our normal lives.

I’d say we’re all in our foxholes, but some of my Ohioan friends on the left might take offense at being associated with a TV news channel they despise.

Damn The Political Ads, Bring On The Season!

Yesterday morning, as I walked the dogs, through my sleep-addled brain I dimly sensed something — like a familiar smell you can’t quite identify, or a music that is just a bit too far out of earshot.  And then I realized:  it’s almost football season!

About time, too.  The Tribe has crashed and burned; there’s no point in watching their death throes.  Browns preseason games, featuring Bernie Kosar’s gravelly insider observations on “skinny post” routes and other minutiae, don’t quite fill the bill, either.  And in “Battleground Ohio,” we need some new broadcasting where the non-stop political attack ads can be run.  Anything that might distract us from the political ads would be welcome.

That means it’s time for the Ohio State Buckeyes to step up to the plate.  With a new coach in Urban Meyer and a largely new staff, a new offensive scheme and focus on speed, and a defense that should be rugged, the Buckeye Nation has high hopes that the Scarlet and Gray can bounce back from last year’s sorry, scandal-plagued season.  We yearn to see this team restore Ohio State to its rightful place atop the Big Ten and the national rankings, crushing all opposition and thrashing the upstart Wolverines in the last game of the season.

And The Game against That Team Up North will be the last game of the season, because Ohio State is banned from the Big Ten championship game or any post-season bowl this year.   That’s okay — we’ll just be focused on the season itself, and playing some good, solid football.

I’m going to be watching with interest, even if it means having to endure some more of those appalling political ads.  It’s just the price you pay to be a faithful member of Buckeye Nation.