With Negative Ad You Get Egg Roll

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 6 2012 3:19 PM

With Negative Ad You Get Egg Roll

Via Rachel Weiner, I see that the backlash to Pete Hoekstra's "Debbie Spend It Now" ad -- which, for shorthand, we'll call the China ad -- is of the Howard Dean-mentioning-the-Confederate-flag variety. Every group or pundit who scans the Internet for evidence of racial offense has found Hoekstra guilty. (It's a sort of nolo contendre process, like getting a speeding ticket -- not worth fighting.)

Here's the ad.

 

The bar for this sort of thing is high now, but sure: This is one of the stupidest and most obvious 30-second ads I've seen. The "scary Chinese people laughing as they take our jobs" trope is not new, but other campaigns have done it scarier, and better. This woman on a bike -- in front of a rice paddy! -- is about as threatening as a comatose lemur. Compare it to the "Chinese professor" ad from 2012.

Or this ad, from Mark Amodei in a 2011 special House race: You've got Chinese troops marching on Washington!

 

The Hoekstra ad, by being so lame ("Pete Spend It Not?"), is pure scold-bait. So is the accompanying website. There's maybe an IQ point to spare in the strategy room that put this together.

Screen shot 2012-02-06 at 3.08.12 PM

But the stupidity is the point: This is lizard brain stuff, meant to remind the hard-luck Michigan voter why he's so afraid of China. Hint, hint: It's DIFFERENT. It's not even that it's Communist, or in the words of Rush Limbaugh, "Chi-Coms." They are foreign and scary -- and hell, that's redundant. Are you worried that America's becoming a second rate power? Here's the woman your daughter's going to be second-rate to.

So I'm not surprised at all to see Hoekstra's campaign fundraisinging off the backlash in an e-mail to supporters.

Here we go again. We dared to take on Debbie Stabenow and China, and the liberals are doing what they always do—crying racism.

Yesterday we launched our new ad, "Debbie Spenditnow." The ad is only insensitive to Debbie Stabenow and her spending.
The Left and the media think you're not supposed to say that Debbie Stabenow's reckless spending has strengthened China and weakened America... The Democrats will stop at nothing to change the subject from Debbie’s big spending, job killing record. That’s why she’s got her people doing what liberals always do when things get tough—calling me a racist.

Here's where Hoekstra loses me -- the poor-little-candidate act. He's not a racist, and only the slowest critics are saying he is. He's a Senate candidate looking for a way to stir up voter anger about the debt (which, according to exit polling in GOP primaries, is fading somewhat as an issue), and doing so with... an ad in which a smug Chinese lady brags about how she's going to bury us. (Is this going to happen before or after her ride on a hastily-built high-speed train?) He knows that a lot of Americans worry about this, possibly unreasonably so. And he's taking advantage of that.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.