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Making Political Opponents Look Bad
Marco Rubio is an early frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President in 2016. On Tuesday night, he delivered the Republican response to the President’s State of the Union Address. The speech covered typical Republican talking points. Rubio was a little stiff in his delivery, but what has gotten much attention, was a sip of water he took about 11 minutes into the speech. In an action that took less than 4 seconds, the Florida Congressman leaned over clumsily and grabbed a small water bottle and took a sip. It was an awkward move that would cost the speaker points in a Toastmasters competition, let alone a nationally televised speech. It was a small gaffe in otherwise acceptable speech. But by the next morning CNN, MSNBC and others were not talking about the details of this speech, they were talking about this sip of water! CNN even ran a tease calling it a “career ender” and Wolf Blitzer devoted a segment debating whether such a move may derail Rubio’s promising career. According to the news website, The Daily Caller, MSNBC had run the clip an amazing 155 times and Al Sharpton jokingly took a swig out of an oversized Poland Springs bottle.
Why has such a seemingly small incident garnered such attention? Very simple: In American politics the opposition will take any opportunity to make the other side look bad. This is something that both sides have done and will continue to do. Making the opponent look bad has been a staple of politics throughout history.
Making fun of politicians is a common device of comedy and political cartoon. Often a politicians appearance will be made fun of . Caricatures often include Jimmy Carter’s teeth, Barack Obama’s ears and Richard Nixon’s nose. Saturday Night Live has had a string of comedians with funny imitations of Presidents and politicians dating back to Chevy Chase whose caricatures of then President, the clumsy Gerald Ford, were hilarious.While the comedians and the shows they appear on may have a particular bias and their imitations may reinforce perceived shortcomings (i.e George W. Bush was dumb and evil, Bill Clinton could not control his libido, Ronald Reagan was senile, Gerald Ford was clumsy, Jimmy Carter was weak) we all understood that this was comedy and Presidents and politicians are great fodder for mocking.
What was different in the Rubio incident was it was not comedy. MSNBC and CNN ran that clip many times, not because it was funny (it wasn‘t), but to make a young Republican up and comer look bad. It is no secret that CNN and MSNBC have a bias toward Democrats and liberals (while Fox News favors Republicans and Conservatives).
While liberal media outlets like MSNBC and the New York Times will do there best to make Republicans look bad and Fox News and talk radio will try to do the same thing to Democrats, during Presidential campaigns both camps can get really nasty. A common weapon is the attack ad. Instead of showing the candidates qualifications they usually show the opponent as unfit, or somehow unqualified. They often use innuendo to make their point. The 2012 Presidential Campaign featured attack ads from both sides.
One of the earliest and most famous attack ads occurred in the 1964 Presidential race between Conservative Barry Goldwater and incumbent Lyndon Johnson. The “Daisy Girl” ad was less than a minute long and only ran once. The black and white commercial featured a small girl counting the petals of a daisy as she picked them off the stem. As she reaches the end, the countdown of a missile launch is heard and the viewer sees the mushroom cloud of an atomic blast. The ad concludes with these words “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home” The ad was very effective. It was credited with convincing enough Americans that Goldwater’s aggressive stance in the Cold War would result in nuclear annihilation. Johnson won the election easily.
Attack ads have been used in every Presidential campaign since 1964, two of the most well known and effective ads were designed by the George H. W. Bush campaign in 1988 against Democrat and former Massachusetts Governor, Michael Dukakis.
In the “Willie Horton” ad, Dukakis is depicted as being soft on crime. As Governor, Dukakis presided over a prison system that allowed unsupervised furloughs. On one of these furloughs, Horton attacked a young couple, stabbing the boy and raping the girl. The commercial features a revolving door at a prison with a voice over that tells the story of Horton. There was a backlash against this ad. Since Horton was black, the ad was perceived by many to be racist.
In the “Tank Ad” the Bush campaign made Dukakis just look silly. Bush was perceived to be much stronger on defense than his opponent. To show that he was just as strong on defense, Dukakis visited an army base and took a ride in a tank. The footage was shot by the Dukakis team, showing the Democratic candidate driving around with a very large helmet and a goofy smile. He could not look any less Presidential. The Bush team added the sound of an 18 wheeler grinding gears to subliminally give the impression that the Governor could not drive properly.
The left is attempting to do the same thing with the Rubio speech gaffe as the Republicans did with Dukakis in 1988, but on a much smaller scale, On Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN it was debated whether this sip incident would destroy his career. To even debate this now when there are 3 ½ years to the election is ludicrous. This is akin to a good baseball player making a costly error in a spring training game not the World Series. Even if the offense was more serious, he would have a lot of time to make up for it. After all, it not like he was Mike Dukakis driving a tank.