The Dim-Post

July 16, 2012

Chicago style

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:45 am

I haven’t really been following the US election campaign, but someone sent me a link to this attack ad from the Obama campaign, which is one of the most effective and vicious pieces of political advertising I’ve ever seen.

Note the sound design – they’ve probably altered Romney’s voice so that it’s off-key, and added all-but subliminal effects to each of the visuals. And, as-per Karl Rove, it turns Romney’s strength – his business success – into a liability, with a minimum of information, in only thirty seconds.


  1. Well, there certainly is a thick, heavy consistency to the theme, and I’m sure the Obama campaign hopes that this one will stick like glue.

    Comment by Tom Hunter — July 16, 2012 @ 9:04 am

  2. No, he really does sing that badly, not that that should disqualify him for the presidency. His hair does that.

    This does have a whiff of the swift-boat about it. It’s appalling seeing the right get a dose of their own medicine.

    Comment by Judge Holden — July 16, 2012 @ 9:17 am

  3. Cayman Islands. With John Grisham’s The Firm enjoying an all-time US bestseller status second only to Harry Potter, that’s not far short of tagging him as Lord Voldemort.

    Comment by Joe W — July 16, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  4. Another line road tested here, which I suspect will get turned into an ad if Romney keeps stalling on his Tax returns:

    “He’s given us one year, but he gave John McCain 23 years of tax returns in 2008. And after they saw those, McCain’s people went with Sarah Palin.”

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — July 16, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  5. Interesting commentary on the audio post-processing at TPM:

    The sound effect tells a story: These spaces are quiet and empty.
    It’s interesting to consider why they make this point with sound design. Romney regularly makes claims about joblessness in the US — where this ad has quotes about Swiss bank accounts, Romney’s ads will have quotes from newspapers on the unemployment rate. That’s where the knife-edge of the Obama argument lies: if he were to put up a chyron that said “American is suffering from a crisis of unemployment” it sets up the points about Romney but it confronts us with a bunch of unfortunate facts, like how many of those people became unemployed during Obama’s presidency, and how little that’s changed, and so on. Sound design is the perfect way of setting the stage with the fact of unemployment without actually making the sort of factual claim about unemployment that would trigger the left-brained skepticism that a swing voter is always trying to apply.

    Also, placing Romney’s voice in the various locations builds the implication in the mind of the listener that Romney is present and witnessing it. It’s almost like he’s in America’s front office, singing into a PA microphone while the building rots. This highlights another feature of sound design: it’s a good way of giving people information in such a way that they don’t even know how they know it. You see the ad and there’s no cognitive speed bump to keep you from concluding that Romney was there in that empty factory, or there in the abandoned conference room, or there sipping Coronas on a beach in Grand Cayman.

    Comment by SHG — July 16, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

  6. It is very similar to Karl Rove’s swift boating of John Kerry, but the job here is a bit easier. A lot of voters are kind of biased against big businesses anyway. Getting them to distrust a military man because of his military service was a lot harder (and basically relied on them saying that he essentially wasn’t a military man)

    Comment by Hugh — July 16, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

  7. Thanks for the link, Pascal’s boogie, I really do think it should be the motto for Obama for the rest of the election. Especially now that Palin has spoken out in favor of Rice for VP (an absurdity that would never happen).

    I think this ad is brilliant, both rhetorically and for taking a very complicated case against Romney’s tax evasion and simplifying it into a fantastic slideshow. Soon we’ll get a GOPer saying that Romney has a veritable UN in his net worth or something, and that’ll really kick it off.

    Comment by nickgb — July 16, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

  8. Not just turning opponents strength to weakness, but also deflecting your own weaknesses – the standard “where are the jobs?” attack on an incumbent recession-President is seriously muted when everyone thinks you personally sent them all overseas…

    Comment by garethw — July 16, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

  9. There’s plenty on about this ad – go have a look.

    Plus this commentary on the production of the ad, not just talking sound:

    Comment by Phil Lyth — July 16, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

  10. Comment by andy (the other one) — July 16, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  11. Comment by Vanilla Eis — July 16, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  12. Romney’s firms shipped jobs to Mexico

    I suppose Obama doesn’t have to worry about the Latino vote.

    Some liberal talking point.

    Comment by NeilM — July 16, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

  13. and merely on the basis of pragmatic self-interest we in NZ might think twice before cheering on that sort of protectionism, even it wasn’t tinged with xenophobia.

    Comment by NeilM — July 16, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

  14. Pish posh Neil, Romney is a ‘rightie’ therefore an enemy of the people (besides helping the poor Mexican working classes) and I’ll have you know the ‘left’ after never xenophobic, that’s the ‘right’ being racist. Just sayin’ comrade.

    Comment by Tim — July 16, 2012 @ 9:53 pm

  15. it strikes me as the sort of condescension to the working class that appeals to the middle class. Obama’s got a lot of money to spend, lot’s more than Romney, it’s not that impressive.

    Comment by NeilM — July 16, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

  16. In the space of only 30 seconds, the Obama campaign has turned Romney’s own guns against him. Shearer & Norman et al, take note.

    Comment by DeepRed — July 16, 2012 @ 11:44 pm

  17. @Deepred – I hope Norman and Shearer win, but not like this.

    Comment by alex — July 17, 2012 @ 12:04 am

  18. @NeilM: “Obama’s got a lot of money to spend, lot’s more than Romney, it’s not that impressive.”

    No he doesn’t – from the WSJ: “Mitt Romney bested President Barack Obama in fundraising during June, collecting $106.1 million and showing for the second straight month that the vaunted Obama fundraising operation is struggling to keep pace in a head-to-head presidential matchup.

    The Obama campaign said Monday that, along with Democratic Party committees, it raised $71 million in June—its best monthly haul for this election cycle and 18% higher than the previous month. But the Obama figure was only about two-thirds of what Mr. Romney and Republican committees pulled in for the month.”

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 17, 2012 @ 2:40 am

  19. Anyone who thinks that post-NAFTA American investment in Mexico has helped the “poor Mexican working classes” would be well-advised to read this essay on life in Ciudad Juarez by Jonathan Littell:!topic/frontera-list/fshqhRKtA6Y

    Comment by Higgs Boatswain — July 17, 2012 @ 7:11 am

  20. Concerned trolling about the working poor is the last refuge of the right wing scoundrel, from discussions designed to keep the cigarette and booze baron’s unfettered access to Gin Lane (“look at the condescending latte sipping liberals, trying to stealing poor mans only solace with higher booze and baccy prices!”) to welfare reform (“Look at the condescending latte sipping liberals! Trying to keep the poor man slave to booze and baccy with free handouts!”) and so on and so on until their fervid imaginations create a link to campaign financing…

    Comment by Sanctuary — July 17, 2012 @ 7:36 am

  21. Very good ad for the bankrupt blue states. Not so much for the red states who can pay their way. Capital flight is an issue in the US but its money, jobs are leaving places like CA and moving to Texas.

    Zero & Mittens are basically fighting over the 10 % swing vote in the purple states. Interesting since March the US Fed Reserve has stopped printing money to prop up the capital system which will cause a huge crash unless printing gets underway again. If there is a crash and Zero can pin it on rich pricks like Mittens this ad will play well in the purple states.

    Comment by Simon — July 17, 2012 @ 8:40 am

  22. @Simon – I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you don’t much respect either candidate?

    Comment by alex — July 17, 2012 @ 10:18 am

  23. @Andrew Geddis: @NeilM: “Obama’s got a lot of money to spend, lot’s more than Romney, it’s not that impressive.”

    No he doesn’t…

    Yes he does – from Reuters: “Obama’s total haul of $552 million so far still has him ahead of Romney’s $394 million…”

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 17, 2012 @ 11:09 am

  24. Ha ha Zero and Mittens! Their names are Willard and Barry, Simon. Show some respect.

    Comment by Judge Holden — July 17, 2012 @ 11:51 am

  25. Whoever is elected, we can at least be assured that rich old white guys remain the real winners on the day.

    Comment by Gregor W — July 17, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

  26. There is quite a lot of interesting talk about the production values in this ad here:

    Comment by Conor Roberts — July 17, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

  27. Some commentry I came across suggested “Firms” was almost as devastating as “Daisy” was in 1968. You have to wonder what Obama’s campaign has in store for the next few months.

    This was a particularly good ad too.

    Comment by Pete Sime — July 17, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

  28. @Andrew The US is a big country and a campaign is a complex thing, but surely there must be a point of diminishing returns when it comes to presidential war chests.

    Comment by Pete Sime — July 17, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

  29. @Graeme,

    And that article continues “but the Republican challenger has drilled deep into the ranks of Wall Street and the wealthy, where many are disgruntled by what they see as Obama’s anti-business rhetoric and policies.
    That reach has aided Romney’s fast-paced catch-up to Obama’s fundraising. Usually, the advantage in this area is held by an incumbent over the presidential challenger.
    The president’s campaign has been sounding alarms that he could be the first incumbent to be outspent.”

    So – yes, technically at this point in Obama has more cash than Romney. But the substance of the claim – that Obama can fling a whole lot more of this dirt because he’s got a deeper warchest – is, over the likely course of the entire campaign, false.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 17, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

  30. @Conor – Swap Romney for Key and you’ve got yourself a cheap ad for 2014.

    Comment by Gregor W — July 17, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

  31. Eh, this barely made it to a second news cycle in the US. This election seems like one where, barring another financial crisis, the campaigns don’t really matter until much closer to the election, if then (unlike 2008; more like 1996 when Clinton, uh, fucked around on his way to a nine point victory). The voters with long attention spans made up their minds about Obama and Romney years ago. The voters with low attention spans won’t pay any mind until October. An order of magnitude difference in advertising volume would make a difference in the interim, but I can’t see that happening.

    Comment by bradluen — July 17, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

  32. I’d like to know the basis of that claim, bradluen. I’ve lived through a few election cycles in the US (one presidential), and my impression was that it is a state of permanent campaigning. You’ve got to remember that the Republic primary began in May 2011, there was a major Republican victory in the mid-term elections six months prior to that, and the economic crisis has been ongoing and had a huge impact on people’s lives. It’s true that voter turnouts are low — the electoral system ensures that — but politics are not a once every four years thing in the States.

    Comment by Jake — July 17, 2012 @ 8:28 pm

  33. @Pete: Possibly … but it’s like the nuclear arms race during the cold war. Perhaps neither side “needed” as many weapons as they had – but then again, neither side wanted to risk falling behind the other. Or, to put it another way, if you can raise and spend that much money and it may help you win the office of POTUS, why wouldn’t you?

    But you may well be right about the effect of spending the money – maybe in reality spending more than (say) $200 million doesn’t achieve anything. It’s just that so long as even one candidate thinks it MIGHT have an effect, the money train rolls on.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 18, 2012 @ 3:32 am

  34. @Brad,

    It’s all about defining a candidate in the voters’ minds as early in the piece as you can, which then causes them to see future evidence through that lens. Many Americans don’t yet have a firm view of what Romney is/what he stands for (in part because he’s been all over the map himself). So, if Obama can get them to think of Romney as a “rich prick” who is part of the cause of current economic hard times, then when they hear him talking about how he’ll “fix the economy” in the future campaign they’ll deeply discount those policies.

    It is, of course, exactly what the Republicans tried to do with Obama back in ’08, when they ran ads like this: It just didn’t work very well.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 18, 2012 @ 3:39 am

  35. “So – yes, technically at this point in Obama has more cash than Romney. But the substance of the claim – that Obama can fling a whole lot more of this dirt because he’s got a deeper warchest – is, over the likely course of the entire campaign, false.”

    @Andrew: not if Sarah Silverman has her way (NSFW)

    Comment by nommopilot — July 18, 2012 @ 8:45 am

  36. perhaps Obama’s record in public equity is worth the same attention and medium ….

    Comment by Rosa19 — July 18, 2012 @ 10:09 am

  37. So – yes, technically at this point in Obama has more cash than Romney. But the substance of the claim – that Obama can fling a whole lot more of this dirt because he’s got a deeper warchest – is, over the likely course of the entire campaign, false

    I was meaning to imply Obama’s got a lot of money and could prehaps use it to make ads with a little more sophistication than that. It’s a necessary evil the Dems have to go through to appeal to blue collar workers but I can’t help but think this style appeals to insiders more than the target audience.

    Comment by NeilM — July 18, 2012 @ 10:14 am

  38. Obama might even spend that money on ads that stick to the facts:

    I don’t see why he has to do this, but I suppose the imperative to appeal to blue collar workers in Ohio is just too strong.

    Comment by NeilM — July 18, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

  39. In the partisan echo chambers such as TPM things are working out brilliantly but in fact these ads aren’t changing peoples’ minds –

    Lucky for Obama neither are Romneys’.

    I’m sure I’m no match for the polical strategists on Obama’s team but it strikes me that he has a well deserved reputation for integrity and he runs the risk of squandering that. It’s already given Romney the opporunity to point out some things Obama said about Hillary Clinton that weren’t exactly in accord with reality. And the degree to which some Democrat pundits have no problem with the jingoism is just plain disappointing.

    Comment by NeilM — July 18, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  40. “It really makes no sense — except in terms of politics. I really believe that we have reached a point where the Fed is afraid to do its job, for fear of being accused of helping Obama.”

    Unless the Fed starts printing again Zero is toast. Campaign money wont matter.

    Mittens is looking at picking the Neo-con Rice as his running mate.

    Comment by Simon — July 19, 2012 @ 7:25 am

  41. (third attempt at posting this, fuck WordPress)

    Jake and Andrew: I stole my talking point from John Sides (prof at GWU). Written a week ago:

    Second, the effect of ads seems to dissipate quickly, even within a week (see point #3). So you may not need to think about the effects of ads for another 3+ months. In fact, let’s shout that: FOR ANOTHER 3+ MONTHS. This notion that you have to advertise early to “define” the candidate or the opposition is folklore. Maybe there is some truth to that, but the truly rigorous studies have not identified such an effect, but have identified rapid decay.

    Look up “The duration of advertising effects in the 2000 presidential campaign” for a UCLA study. Ads helped Bush win (well, “win”) but the best guess from the data is that it was the late ads that mattered.

    There are certainly cases when you can define your opposition, but I don’t think this is one of them, since Romney has had a national profile for a long while.

    Comment by bradluen — July 19, 2012 @ 6:12 pm

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