No better way to launch our list-obsessed chronicle of politics than with TV ads, the most embarrassing, least informative but, let’s admit it, most riveting circus acts in our no-longer-fact-based democracy. Here’s our reverse-order ranking of the best/worst recent spots: “best” because they are cynically effective (even funny); “worst” because they are somewhere between Colbertian “truthiness” and flat-out lie.
OBAMA WANTS TO TAKE AWAY YOUR GUN. With all of the production values of a Ginsu knife demonstration and all of the paranoia of someone in Adderall withdrawal, this spot -- airing on cable in small markets -- has a breathless announcer declaring that the president is secretly in league with the United Nations to confiscate all the guns. This is a twofer: late-night cable-watching conservatives hate and fear the U.N. (one-world guv'mint!) and worship the Second Amendment. The ad is, sadly, quite wrong. If anything, President Barack Obama has been as soft on guns as his recent GOP predecessors. But there aren’t many votes in the spot, either. It seems more designed to raise money for the fringe group that is airing it.
COMMANDER-IN-LEAKS. Swift Boats sail again as a flotilla of special operations veterans accuse the Obama Administration of leaking information about successful operations in a way that compromises U.S. security and threatens soldiers’ lives. The real aim is to try to undercut the president’s considerable (and for a Democrat, unusual) credibility as commander-in-chief. It’s true that criticism of leaks has been bipartisan, so the topic is fair game. But the ad doesn’t accuse Obama of knowing about the leaks and the spot feels like the lame flanking maneuver that it is. Oh, and not surprisingly, one of the founding members of this group, Larry Murphy, is a Birther, so ... thanks but no thanks, Special Commander Loony Loony Bean Dip.
OBAMA LOVES DEADBEATS. Reviving a rancid meme -- Dems love welfare cheats -- the Mitt Romney campaign aired an ad accusing Obama of abolishing the “workfare” requirement that President Bill Clinton and the GOP put in place in 1996. But surprise! It’s not true. At all. What the president did was offer waivers to states that came up with their own programs to increase employment among welfare recipients. But point that out to the Romney campaign, and they’ll still tell you that “Obama, like, totally gutted welfare, you guys.” Even surrogate Newt Gingrich admitted to Anderson Cooper that there was “no proof” of the ad’s claim. And yet the Romney campaign presses on, while the rest of us die a sad, slow, death.
BAIN INTRUDER: HIDE YO KIDS, HIDE YO WIFE. Breaking: Mitt Romney is the leading cause of cancer in swing states! At least, according to an ad by pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action. By now, everyone knows the tragic tale of Joe Soptic, the steelworker who lost his wife to cancer -- because Bain Capital cost him his job, his health insurance, and ultimately his wife. Though ... funny thing: turns out wife Ilyana had her own health insurance and was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, five years after Bain ruined everything. And according to
his campaign his records, Romney had already left the company. But so what? Details, schmeetails. The ad got people talking, Mittsters howling and most importantly, it forced the Romney campaign to finally acknowledge the existence of such a thing so pure, good and simple as Massachusetts health care.
OBAMA WILL “CUT” MEDICARE. Trying to make a virtue of necessity, Romney and the Republicans went on the offensive with spots accusing the president of wanting to “cut” Medicare by $716 billion. But they're buying tons of time for a serious distortion -- it’s not a “cut,” it’s slowing of growth. Savings are from new efficiencies and leaning on suppliers; what marginal effects to benefits ensue are traded against eight more years of solvency. Oh, and Paul Ryan’s own Medicare plans propose roughly the same savings. Confused? Never fear, Romney's whiteboard is here! Doesn't any old crap just look more credible on a whiteboard? (Because if you're not convinced there's always PowerPoint.) But no matter. The aim isn’t accuracy -- it's Pavlovian repetition, specifically, the repetition of an exact-sounding number from a government source. Expect to hear “seven hundred and sixteen billion” until November. (And probably never know that what Romney calls "cuts" actually improved Medicare's long-term fiscal health.)
PAUL RYAN WANTS TO KILL YOUR GRANDMA. Remember that time someone flung Granny from a cliff? Well, allow Romney's running-mate selection to remind you. A year after targeting the Paul Ryan plan for turning Medicare into a voucher program, the Agenda Project Action Fund is back with Granny Off The Cliff, Part Deux. Though, this is more like an instance where George Lucas jazzes up his old movies than a true sequel -- from the admaker's perspective, not much has changed in terms of their opinion on Ryan's plans for Medicare. But details are not the point. Rather, viewers are supposed to remember the worst case -- literally the worst case -- scenario. And that's your elderly, wheelchair-bound grandma being pushed off a cliff by a Paul Ryan doppleganger. In a droll note at the bottom, the sponsors aver that “no senior citizen was harmed in the making of this ad.” (Actually, could someone check this? For real?) For sheer cynical chutzpah, and for making an ad worthy of inclusion in the movie “The Campaign,” the granny ad tops The HUFFPOSTLIST.