Trying to make the competition for the Democratic presidential nomination appear to be about differences on issues, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have each released new television ads in the days leading up to Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. While the ads have different emphases, they are all striking in their own ways including Hillary’s overtly socialist tone and Obama’s bilingual calls for generic “change”.
In Clinton’s ad, entitled “Voices”, Hillary says she hears our voices, and will bring them with her to Washington if she becomes president. As if that weren’t enough to make one call for the Senate staff psychiatrist, Clinton tells us what she hears our voices saying to her.
Our voices want cheap health care, help with the mortgage payment on the unaffordable houses we bought anyway, discounts on gasoline, and college scholarships for all (or at least for most).
Our voices are the political megalomaniac’s equivalent of hearing a child on Santa’s lap asking for the shiny new bike. But the economically childish plans which the Democrats cook up in response to those voices are far more dangerous than parents buying a slightly-too-expensive bicycle for their children.
At least the parents know where the money will come from for that purchase, and that an extra $20 spent on the bike means $20 less they’ll have to spend at the movies the next week. The Democrats on the other hand seem to think that there is a never-ending supply of money to be found by soaking the rich…while arguing at the same time for a “middle-class tax cut”, as if those whom Democrats believe are middle class actually pay a substantial part of the total income tax taken by our government.
Barack Obama’s (English) ads are no better. In an ad called “President”, Obama parrots Clinton’s call for “making health care affordable”, which he oddly says he’ll accomplish by “bringing Democrats and Republicans together. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the past generation, it’s that most successful efforts at “bipartisanship” leave us (or at least our wallets and our constitution) wishing for gridlock.
Obama’s ad also calls for a “middle-class tax cut”, something he re-emphasized during an interview on NPR on Thursday when he talked about “a tax system too skewed toward the wealthy.” Let’s get clear what this means: A system which is more “progressive” (read “penalizing success and discouraging entrepreneurship) in which the top 1% of earners (those earning over $364,000 in Adjusted Gross Income) paid 39% of all income taxes in 2005, the most recent year for which data is available, and in which the top 5% of earners (over $145,000 AGI) paid 60% of taxes is somehow not progressive enough? Maybe what Obama meant was “skewering the wealthy”. In any case, both he and Hillary clearly mean to skewer them more, given the opportunity.
Obama’s other (English) ad is called “Would”. It discusses Obama’s opposition to the war, his involvement in ethics reform legislation, and his desire to unite the nation and “bring change”…whatever that means.
The ads represent both Democrats playing to their electoral strengths: Clinton does well with less educated, lower earning, financially pessimistic people, with voters who fear another terrorist attack in the US, who value experience more than change, and who are more concerned with issues than with personality. Obama does well with higher earning, better educated, more optimistic people who want change and a leader they really like.
Clinton’s overtly redistributionist tone and talk of gifts for all plays perfectly to her base, where Obama’s finer-tuned rhetoric and talk of change (while still playing the class envy card to a degree) play to his. In that sense, the ads are predictable, and aimed at solidifying their voters rather than converting people.
But Obama has also stepped outside that comfort zone with ads that are interesting but still somehow disturbing. The ads, created for the Nevada caucuses, are in Spanish. One ad, a minute long, shows Obama calling his history “a story that can only happen in the United States”. Obama talks about hopes and possibilities, and closes with him “approving this ad” en Español. But the more interesting character in the ad is the narrator who begins by asking “Do you remember the dream that brought you or your parents to this country?”, soon followed by “Now this is your country.” It is noteworthy that in his English ad, Obama takes a subtle jab at John Edwards with “this is one country”, unlike Edwards’ “two Americas” theme. And while the Spanish ad is nominally consistent with “one America”, it leaves one wondering about the sincerity of that view.
Another ad, thirty seconds in length, has a female narrator saying in Spanish that “it is time to have affordable and available health care for all”, and also mentions making college education more available. Obama says “Yes we can”, and the screen shows “¡Si, Se Puede!”, with a crowd behind Obama chanting “Yes we can” but with the sound mixed so that they could easily be yelling in Spanish, and with the sort of raucousness that one might associate with south-of-the-border politics.
The ads are a brazen play by Obama to maximize the benefit of his endorsement by the Culinary Workers Union in Nevada which has about 60,000 members, as well as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) of Nevada, which has over 17,000 members. Both unions have substantial Hispanic membership, with the Culinary Workers making a particular effort to register Hispanic voters. At this point, the significance of the endorsements is not known given estimates of over 40% of the union being immigrants, with many members of both unions not being eligible or registered to vote.
Clearly the Obama camp thinks the endorsements are significant enough to justify non-English advertising. And while the ads are probably clever in the short run, they could used to damage Obama in the general election, especially by anti-(illegal)-immigration 527s.
Obama’s Spanish and English ads are consistent in content: He is running as the candidate of liberal “change” and “hope”, and only a hint less socialism than Hillary. More interesting is that the Spanish ads are clearly aimed at lower-income voters (simply because of their jobs and backgrounds) whereas in the English language ads Obama caters to higher-earning college grads and concedes much of the low-income electorate to Hillary Clinton.
Whether in English or Spanish, the actual policy positions staked out by both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sound like a wish-list of people who want a free lunch. Well, they haven’t actually asked for a free lunch yet, but free (or cheap) health care, housing, college, and fuel is already an appetizing menu for liberals. All they need to add to complete the menu is a “skewer of wealthy person”.