Bush plays the Nazi card.

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

Der Furor

Bush plays the Nazi card.

Chill, dude
Chill, dude

"Kerry's Coalition of the Wild-eyed" was produced for the Bush campaign by Maverick Media. To watch the video on the Bush campaign Web site, click here. For a script, click here.

From: William Saletan
To: Jacob Weisberg

Where to begin with this despicable video?

Six months ago, MoveOn.org held a contest to find the best amateur ad against President Bush. The group invited people to make ads and submit them to its Web site. Some idiot spliced images of Bush together with images of Adolf Hitler, evidently trying to make Bush look like a warmonger. His submissions, which arrived with 1,500 others—too many to be screened quickly—were posted on the contest Web site. As soon as MoveOn.org leaders realized what was in the ad, they removed and denounced it.

The Bush campaign, outraged by the mixture of Nazi images with images of an American politician, has decided that the best response to this offense is to repeat it.

The Bush video's opening white-on-black graphic says, "The Faces of John Kerry's Democratic Party. The Coalition of the Wild-eyed." Next comes a parade of angry speakers: Al Gore, Hitler, Howard Dean, Michael Moore, Dick Gephardt, Hitler, Gore, and Kerry.

Is Bush suggesting that Hitler fits in with this group? Don't be silly, Jake. Bush's aides insist they're just showing the Hitler footage so you can see the filth Democrats are putting out. But we already know how Bush's GOP presents images from Democratic ads when it wants to discredit them. In 2000, Republican National Committee ads repeatedly depicted Al Gore's commercials running on a small television screen in a kitchen. The RNC ads didn't show the Gore ads at full size on your screen because the RNC didn't want the images in the Gore ads to be taken at face value.

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This time, the Bush campaign shows the Hitler images at full size, in an unexplained sequence with Gore, Dean, Gephardt, and Kerry. Draw your own conclusions.

How does the Bush camp identify the Hitler footage? "Sponsored by Moveon.Org" says a label on the first Hitler clip, evidently put there by the miscreants who submitted the ad. "Images from Moveon.Org ad" says the Bush campaign's label on the second Hitler clip. The only organization that doesn't identify the clips as a "Moveon.org ad" is MoveOn.org, which denounced the ad and never "sponsored" it. But never mind. Instead of apologizing for this implicit misrepresentation of sponsorship, the Bush campaign has made the misrepresentation explicit. "The following video contains remarks made by and images from ads sponsored by Kerry Supporters," says a graphic appended to the beginning of the video.

The Bush campaign's claim that the amateur Hitler ads represent "John Kerry's Democratic Party" is laughable. Kerry didn't control MoveOn.org, and MoveOn.org didn't make the ads. When the ads were submitted, the membership of MoveOn.org largely supported Dean, the candidate who had nearly wiped Kerry off the map. Kerry had just mortgaged his house to get the cash Democrats were refusing to give him. The suggestion that he controlled the party is preposterous—but only slightly more preposterous than the suggestion that Kerry is responsible what Dean and Gephardt said while running against him, or what Gore and Moore said while supporting candidates who were running against him. Not to mention that the question Gore poses in the ad—"How dare they drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud of Saddam Hussein's torture prison?"—is well warranted.

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.

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.

He's going to need better gutter tactics than this to stop Hitler in Ohio. 

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Jacob Weisberg is chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group and author of The Bush Tragedy. Follow him on Twitter.

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