Morning in America, Revisited

Political ads dissected and explained.
June 15 2000 3:00 AM

Morning in America, Revisited

"Social Security" was produced for the Republican National Committee by Alex Castellanos. Click for a transcript of the ad; click here to see it on the Hotline Scoop site. 

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To: Jacob Weisberg

From: William Saletan

This ad gives old meaning to the term "hypocrisy." For four years, Republicans have chastised Democrats for spending soft money on the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign in the guise of "issue" advertising. Now, just hours after hounding the Democratic National Committee for repeating this behavior, the Republican National Committee has copied it.

I thought it was impossible for anyone to display greater contempt for the law on this subject than the DNC did in its ad for Al Gore last week. The RNC has proved me wrong. The DNC ad referred to Gore once and showed him speaking as the words "The Gore Plan" appeared on the screen. The RNC ad refers to Bush five times and praises "George Bush's voluntary plan," "the Bush Plan," and "the Bush blueprint" four times.

Wait, it gets worse. At a press conference unveiling the Republican ad this weekend, RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson used exactly the same sophistry in defense of the Bush ad that DNC National Chairman Joe Andrew used last week in defense of the Gore ad. Andrew argued that all political ads are issue ads—and therefore can be funded with soft money—because politics is about issues. Nicholson argued, "These are issue ads. This campaign is about issues." Andrew said the Democrats could feature Gore in their ads because he's their "standard-bearer." Nicholson said the Republican ad just "gives appropriate credit to Gov. Bush because he's such a strong proponent" of the GOP's position on Social Security. When asked whether Gore's campaign staff had a role in the DNC ad, Andrew said he had "obviously" engaged in "lots of conversations" with Gore's top campaign aides. When asked whether Bush's campaign staff had a role in the RNC ad, Nicholson said the RNC has "constant communication with the Bush campaign."

Not content to match the DNC's effrontery, the RNC feigns moral superiority. Bush has "a bipartisan plan to strengthen and improve Social Security," says the Republican ad. At the GOP's press conference, RNC Vice Chairman Pat Harrison stressed this aspect of the RNC ad: "It's bipartisan. It's not attacking." As opposed to whom? "Al Gore," she explained. "His attitude is, 'We can't do it. You can't have your money.' " The RNC ad is a real issue ad because Bush and the GOP are bipartisan—unlike those nasty Democrats.

Nobody comes out clean here. By abusing campaign-finance loopholes to broadcast a Gore ad with soft money, the DNC shows contempt for the law. By using the Clintonian art of redefinition to rationalize these abuses, the DNC shows contempt for the media's and the public's intelligence, adding insult to injury. By resorting to exactly the same loopholes and rationalizations, the RNC adds insult to insult.

To: William Saletan

From: Jacob Weisberg

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