Bush's World

Bush's World

Bush's World

Political ads dissected and explained.
July 27 2000 3:00 AM

Bush's World

"New Americans," "Once," and "Hard Things" were produced by Maverick Media for Bush for President. Click for a transcript of the ads.


From: Jacob Weisberg

To: William Saletan

These are technically the first presidential campaign ads, and they have a different look and feel from the earlier Bush "issue ads" produced by the Republican National Committee. Alex Castellanos made the RNC spots, which are fairly prosaic takes on Social Security and education. Bush's own production team at Maverick Media, which is headed by Mark McKinnon and Stuart Stevens, produced this slicker, more abstract and conceptual suite of ads. These commercials don't really deal with issues at all. They are image ads, which try to create a set of positive associations for George W. Bush without worrying us unduly about his policies. 

In fact, you get the message of these commercials more clearly if you hit the "mute" button and just watch the pictures go by. Let's go through each of them frame by frame. 

New Americans In the first ad, "New Americans," we see: a baby's foot; a baby's hand; a baby's face; a couple in bed with their baby; a couple on a porch swing with their daughter; a baby's toy; a pile of antique alphabet blocks; a mother dancing with her baby in a baby carrier in her kitchen; a white construction worker putting his arm on the shoulder of a black construction worker; a white shoe salesman handing a dark-skinned customer a sneaker; an old-bearded guy in a batting helmet and team uniform swinging a baseball bat; hands turning the pages of a book; girls in school writing with pencils; a older black woman against a white backdrop, staring at the camera; a older white man taking off his hat for the camera; a pretty Asian woman in a dress; a white boy in a baseball helmet; a pretty Hispanic woman; a white boy smiling; a pretty young girl who might be white, Hispanic, Asian, or any mixture of the three; and finally George W. Bush in shirtsleeves, smiling and waving as he crosses the street.

Once In the second ad, "Once," some of the images overlap with the first spot. We see: a guy with a mug of coffee looking out his doorway at the new day; a Hispanic woman walking down the street; a young woman helping an older man who might be her grandfather load vacation gear into a trailer; the smiling white kid (which repeats from the first ad); black and white workers having lunch together; the older white guy doffing his hat (repeats); the girls in school writing with pencils (repeats); a woman lifting baby out of crib; an Asian woman in a classroom; the mother playing with her baby in a baby carrier in her kitchen (repeats); a black soldier and a white soldier sitting together, wearing camouflage uniforms; a group of old folks singing around a piano covered with sports trophies; the couple on a porch swing with their daughter (repeats); the baby toy (repeats); a smiling couple with newborn baby; and George W. Bush in shirtsleeves, smiling and waving as he crosses the street (repeats).

HardThings In the third ad, "Hard Things," we see: Bush, talking head-on to the camera; a classroom filled with kids; the oldsters around the piano (repeats from the second ad); the old guy with the hat (repeats from first and second); Bush again; a couple in front of their house and an American flag; the couple on the swing (repeats from first and second); the baby toy (repeats from first and second); the alphabet blocks (repeats from first and second); the mom dancing with her baby in the kitchen (repeats from first and second); the white boy (repeats from first); a pretty young Hispanic woman; the same Hispanic woman with her white boyfriend; a young white couple; and Bush again.

As this inventory indicates, the three ads are cut from a single pool of images, the way a suit jacket and pants are cut from the same bolt of cloth. When you see the ads repeatedly, as you might if you lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, or Florida, they more or less merge, mentally. I think that the goal is to create a visual sense of Bush's "vision" of the country.

And what can we say about that country? That it is a sunny, wholesome, and optimistic place where everyone is middle class, the weather is always balmy, and conflict is nowhere in evidence. The dominant emotion is less good cheer than a kind of deep joy at being alive in this kind of world. Babies are born into loving homes. Children learn in sun-soaked classrooms. Men take satisfaction in physical work. Elderly people engage in meaningful and satisfying leisure activities. Most of all, people work, play, and learn together across boundaries of age and race—indeed, without any seeming awareness of those lines at all. There's even interracial-dating, though only white-Hispanic, not white-black.