Dad and Apple Pie 

Political ads dissected and explained.
June 21 2000 3:00 AM

Dad and Apple Pie 

"Fatherhood" was produced for the Democratic National Committee by "Democratic Victory 2000," a combined effort of Squier Knapp Dunn, Shrum Devine Donilon, and Carter Eskew. Click for a transcript of the ad.

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To: Jacob Weisberg

From: William Saletan

Talk about morning in America. Just last week we were discussing how the latest ad for George W. Bush borrowed Ronald Reagan's imagery to steal Bill Clinton's economy. In that ad, the Bush campaign—oops, I mean, the Republican National Committee—used a sunrise and amber waves of grain to convey a "nation at peace and more prosperous than ever." You pointed out Gore the paradox of the opposition party playing directly to its weak suit: peace and prosperity. The idea was that because peace and prosperity are the most obvious reasons to vote for the incumbent party—at least superficially—Bush is better off facing up to them and reconciling them with his candidacy.

I think Gore's fatherhood ad operates on the same principle. The most common reason why swing voters currently favor Bush is that he, unlike Gore, comes across as a real person. Every time Gore opens his mouth, he conveys with each policy sub-point, each meticulously pronounced word, each Sesame Street intonation, and each mechanical gesture that he's an android. Where's the personality? Where's the whimsy? Where's the heart?

In this ad, Gore's consultants have confronted the problem directly. They have de-Gored Gore. The audio track consists entirely of Reaganesque orchestral music and the indescribably beautiful sound of Al Gore not speaking. The video is composed of photographs and what appear to be home movie clips: a young Gore with his father, a middle-aged Gore with his wife and children, and other fathers with their sons. The on-screen text is limited to heartwarming platitudes, and even the momentary allusion to policy—"The Gore Plan: Promote responsible fatherhood, extend family and medical leave, end the marriage penalty for working families"—boils down to an inconsequential sentiment, a vague promise, and a diluted Republican idea. For once, Gore comes across not as a debating machine but as a man with roots, a family, and values apart from politics.

I thought Gore's consultants were producing his latest campaign ads for the DNC (rather than for Gore himself) just to skirt the law. Maybe I was wrong. Outside Gore's nominal purview, they've found the courage to stop letting Gore be Gore.

To: William Saletan

From: Jacob Weisberg

Less than two weeks after they started, the pretext of these "issue ads" is already wearing thin. The first DNC ad was a Gore spot arguing that Medicare should cover prescription drugs. This, the second, takes on the bitter debate about whether fathers are a good thing or not. I don't think the DNC is going to get much of an argument going with the Republicans on that topic. This could be a public service announcement sponsored by the Ad Council. It's Dad and apple pie.

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