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Campaign Ads For The Katrina And 9/11 Anniversary Season: "Got Competence?"

05/25/2011 11:55 am ET

There are two major anniversaries just around the corner: the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Both will have political implications in this election year. The Democrats need to realize that this is an opportunity, and use it to their advantage.

I realize this is an inflammatory concept. But Republicans have already proven they aren't afraid of politicizing both 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden. Democrats shouldn't shy away from turning these issues to their advantage, in an intelligent and respectful way.

The inevitable cries of "How dare you politicize tragedy?" will doubtless be heard. The answer is easy: "We didn't politicize this -- President Bush's incompetence made it a political issue. Democrats offer a better choice for America, and we're not afraid of saying so."

The ads are easy to imagine and would be even easier to produce. I came up with these two ideas in about five minutes, and I'm sure others could come up with equally effective and probably better ideas on their own (feel free to post any that suggest themselves). One can only hope that some lowly staffer at the Democratic National Committee reads Huffington Post regularly, with an open mind.

The first ad would deal with Katrina:

[CUE:] Funereal dirge music in a minor key -- perhaps a somber cello solo?

[VIDEO:] Multiple images are shown in a montage of Katrina's destruction, alternating between scenes from last year, and how things look today.

[TEXT AT BOTTOM:] Location and date of the image, e.g. "New Orleans 4 days after Katrina", or "Lower Ninth Ward today."

[STILL PHOTO:] After a few of these horrific images of devastation, show photo of Bush playing guitar while New Orleans drowns.

BushFiddles.jpg

[TEXT AT BOTTOM:] "President Bush, the day after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast"

[VIDEO:] Video clip of Bush's immortal line: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

[TEXT AT BOTTOM:] "Bush praises FEMA director Michael Brown, 4 days after Katrina hit."

[VIDEO:] Video clip of Bush's speech in New Orleans.

BUSH: "...I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives." [CUT] "Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency. When the federal government fails to meet such an obligation, I, as President, am responsible for the problem, and for the solution."

[TEXT AT BOTTOM:] "The promises."

[VIDEO:] Final video clip -- choose the worst clip from today's reality, showing in the starkest terms how much has not been done in New Orleans, and how far we obviously still have to go after one year has already passed.

[TEXT AT BOTTOM:] "The reality -- one year later."

[FADE TO BLACK]

[FADE-IN] White lettering appears, centered on screen.

[TEXT -- IN THE "GOT MILK?" FONT:] "Got Competence?" -- or maybe use Newt Gingrich's suggestion: "Had Enough?"

[FADE TO BLACK]

[FADE-IN] Colorful lettering appears (perhaps with logo and website info as well), centered on screen.

[TEXT:] "The Democratic Party. Change is good."

The second ad would not deal directly with 9/11 (i.e., no shots of the twin towers -- too exploitative), but rather with the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Americans are more and more making their own minds up that Iraq was a distraction in the war on terror, and this will strongly reinforce this perception.

[VIDEO:] Clips of Bush bragging about the imminent capture of Osama Bin Laden, from late 2001 and 2002. Sequence ends with:

BUSH: "There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"

[FADE TO:] Weatherbeaten and ragged old poster tacked to the front of a Wild West sheriff's office: "Wanted: Dead or Alive -- Osama Bin Laden." Hold image for 5 seconds while faded and torn poster flaps in the wind.

[TEXT:] Text appears over previous image: Washington Post headline: "U.S. Concludes Bin Laden Escaped at Tora Bora Fight; Failure to Send Troops in Pursuit Termed Major Error"

[TEXT:] Previous text is replaced with quote from USA Today article: "In 2002, troops from the 5th Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq."

[VIDEO:] White House press conference with Bush.

Q: "Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that?" [CUT]

BUSH: "I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him." [CUT] "I truly am not that concerned about him."

[TEXT AT BOTTOM:] Date of press conference, "3/13/02"

[STILL PHOTO:] New York Times headline: "C.I.A. Closes Unit Focused on Capture of bin Laden."

[TEXT AT BOTTOM:] Date of article, "7/4/06"

[FADE-IN] White lettering appears, centered on screen.

[TEXT -- IN THE "GOT MILK?" FONT:] "Got Competence?"

[FADE TO BLACK]

[FADE-IN] Colorful lettering appears (perhaps with logo and website info as well), centered on screen.

[TEXT:] "The Democratic Party. Focused on the real fight against terrorism."

If these images seem too harsh, perhaps you haven't heard that one of Hillary Clinton's Republican opponents in her Senate race is already airing an ad with her face next to Osama Bin Laden's.

In other words, Republicans are already playing hardball. Democrats shouldn't shrink from doing the same. Reminding voters that people are still suffering in New Orleans -- and that 9/11 and Iraq are not the same thing -- isn't exploiting tragedy; it's a poignant reminder that the Bush "gang who can't shoot straight" can't seem to finish what they set out to do.

You can argue about the relative effectiveness of these two ads, but the real lesson is that it only took me five minutes to come up with them. In other words, this ain't rocket science. It just takes some backbone to air them.

Democrats could run these ads on the cheap, so money's not even an issue. They are so provocative the news anchors will immediately pick them up as a political story. When the ad itself becomes news, then it conveniently runs for free on every news program -- to a much larger audience than the original ad buy.

Since anti-Bush feelings are a big part of this election, it is fair game to convince more people to vote for change -- especially with less than three months to go before the election. Democrats need to tie Congressional Republicans as tightly as possible to Bush's policies, and then hammer away at their failures. The great squishy middle of American voters aren't very ideologically inclined one way or another, but they do like to see a minimum of competence from the people they elect. Painting the Republicans as "the party of incompetence" will swing a lot of independent votes to the Democrats.

This is not political cynicism, it is realism: for the next two weeks or so, Americans will be inundated with images of both Katrina and the 9/11 tragedy on their television screens. Linking those horrific images with Republican incompetence in voters' minds is not dishonest in any way. New Orleans hasn't been rebuilt. We haven't caught Osama Bin Laden. To use a Republican phrase, it's all about accountability. And when the truth is on your side, negative advertising works.

Howard Dean? Are you listening?

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