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[Opinion] Political TV Ads

Posted March. 13, 2008 03:06,   


“Weekend Pass,” created in the run-up to the 1988 U.S. presidential election by the Republican Party, is considered the worst negative TV ad ever in U.S. history. The commercial targeted Michael Dukakis, then Democratic presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts. It was also called the “Willie Horton” ad, named after a prisoner who was freed on a weekend prison furlough program, which Massachusetts Governor Dukakis championed. While on his weekend leave, Horton sexually assaulted his white fiancé. The ad aimed at provoking fear among voters with the message that “Dukakis let black murderers wander freely.” Consequently, support for Dukakis nosedived.

It was Dwight D. Eisenhower who first made use of TV ads. In 1952, he seized the momentum in the presidential race by placing "Eisenhower Answers America" TV spots. Since then, TV ads have played a critical role in turning the tide of presidential elections. The method of ads has varied from emphasizing the advantages of a candidate and key election issues to lashing out at rival candidates.

Currently, a TV ad placed by Hillary Clinton, locked in a neck-and-neck race with Barack Obama, is the talk of the town. The ad says, “It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep, but there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing. Something is happening in the world. Who do you want answering the phone?"

The ad clearly conveys the message that Hillary Clinton is the only candidate eligible to be president. It implies that Clinton, who spent eight years as First Lady, is on a better footing than Obama in international politics. In fact, Hillary was engaged in international diplomacy 79 times under her husband’s administration, including efforts to resolve conflicts in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and India.

The Clinton Camp’s ambitious TV ad, however, seems to have fallen short of expectations. Rather, it was criticized for triggering unfounded fear. The Obama camp responded with its own TV ad saying, “In a dangerous world, it is judgment that matters, not experience.” However, it seems only one person has gained from these two TV ads: John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate. According to a Rasmussen poll, asking, “Who do you want to answer the White House phone at 3 a.m.,” 45 percent of respondents said “John McCain.”

Editorial writer Chung Seong-hee (shchung@donga.com)