Bush plays the Nazi card.

Political ads dissected and explained.
June 28 2004 7:13 PM

Der Furor

Bush plays the Nazi card.

(Continued from Page 1)

The only clip that can fairly be attributed to Kerry appears at the end, when the senator is shown telling an audience, "George Bush will lay off your camel, tax your shovel, kick your (bleep) and tell you there is no Promised Land." This is the punch line of a joke Kerry used to tell on the trail. The joke, now thankfully defunct, is too long and unfunny to bear repeating. What's worth noting is that Bush-Cheney '04 thinks this clip shows a man too angry and foul-mouthed to sit in the White House. This from a president who delivered the seven-letter version of Kerry's A-word in his last campaign, and a vice president who boasted Friday that he "felt better" after delivering the F-word to a Democrat on the Senate floor. Politician, go heal thyself.

To: William Saletan
From: Jacob Weisberg

On the pretext of protesting a comparison of George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler, the president's re-election campaign has made an ad that implicitly compares John Kerry to Hitler. To be sure, it's disgusting, for all the reasons you say.

But the vileness of "Kerry's Coalition of the Wild-eyed" must not be allowed to obscure its essential hilarity. What moron came up with this idea? What are they smoking in Karl Rove's office? C'mon, Will. This ad is the campaign equivalent of The Producers—an idea so egregiously tasteless and stupid that it might just succeed as camp.

Footage of Hitler shouting in German is juxtaposed with footage of Al Gore, Howard Dean, and Dick Gephardt getting worked up while criticizing Bush, Michael Moore getting booed for criticizing the Iraq War at the Academy Awards, and John Kerry using the  phrase "kick your ass" (which is bleeped out, possibly in an effort to imply he said something worse). I know I should be disgusted by the attempted association of Democrats and Nazis, but it's too funny to get upset about. Cue the goose-stepping mädchen of the Brookings Institution!

What exactly does the Bush-Cheney campaign think that these Democrats have in common with Hitler? Basically, it's that they're too darned excited about politics. They yell. They criticize harshly. They use bad language. The message here, to the extent there is one, is: "Don't be like Hitler—chill out!"

Developing its argument that Nazism was basically a failure to relax, the ad attempts to tie its grotesque libel to the Bush campaign's theme of the month, which is that the incumbent's "optimism" is better than Kerry's "pessimism." "This is not a time for pessimism and rage," the screen text says, over an image of a not at all enraged John Kerry telling his camel joke. The noise and chaos and grainy footage of the Democrats jarringly dissolves into sunny music, accompanied by a clear, color photograph of a confident President Bush strutting around the White House. "It's a time for optimism, steady leadership and progress," the text continues.

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This language pushes the facile notion that "optimism" is the most important of presidential qualities deep into the realm of the absurd. The implicit argument is a parody of syllogistic illogic: According to the premise of the ad, Hitler = rage and pessimism; Democrats = rage and pessimism; ergo, Kerry = Hitler. Is there any danger of any person in the United States taking this stuff seriously?

Then again, if such a grotesque video is not an occasion for pessimism and rage, I'm not sure what is. In the president's view, is there ever "a time" for such sentiments? Would Bush have counseled optimism if he'd been a Jew facing the real Hitler in Germany in the 1930s, or a Kurd in Saddam's Iraq? Should the kidnapped U.S. Marine threatened with beheading by his captors be optimistic because optimism is the American way?

A state of perpetual optimism is either a dangerous delusion or a calculated pose. In the case of the Bush campaign, it's evidently the latter. Comparing one's opponent to Hitler is not, in fact, the sign of a confident or optimistic candidate. To the contrary, it's the act of a fearful and cynical candidate who is willing to use any tactic to avoid defeat.

But in reaching so far down so early in, Bush has not improved his prospects. Aimed as it is at the surviving members of various John Birch splinter organizations, this ad will win over no one, while alienating and offending many potential Bush supporters. Republicans will spend much time on the defensive trying to explain why their ad is not as revolting and preposterous as it obviously is. This sets Bush back.

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