Playing the bin Laden card?

Hillary Clinton unveils 11th-hour ad in Pennsylvania, featuring footage of the terrorist leader.

By Steve Benen
Published April 22, 2008 12:27AM (UTC)
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The Clinton campaign is starting to develop an M.O. -- unveil a provocative new ad in the 11th hour, right before an important contest. We saw it with the "3 a.m." ad, which sparked considerable discussion, and we're seeing it again today, with this new ad, called, "Kitchen."

As Chris Cillizza explained, "The ad hits virtually every possible emotional touchstone for voters from 18 to 80 -- the bombing of Pearl Harbor, long gas lines in the 1970s, Osama bin-Laden and Hurricane Katrina."

The ad's narrator tells viewers, "It's the toughest job in the world. You need to be ready for anything -- especially now, with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing and an economy in crisis. Harry Truman said it best: 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.' Who do you think has what it takes?"

Maybe I'm still desensitized, but I don't really find the ad offensive at all. Including bin Laden in the commercial ratchets up the emotional intensity a bit, but all things considered, the spot seems relatively mild to me.

What's the message? That it's a scary world and Clinton is prepared for it. That, of course, has more or less been the Clinton campaign message for the past 15 months. The difference is, now she's running campaign ads featuring bin Laden.

The initial response from the Obama campaign directed reporters to a video of Bill Clinton in 2004 saying, "If one candidate's trying to scare you and the other one's trying to get you to think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears and the other one's appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope."

True enough. But I've seen plenty of demagogic fear-mongering, and this ain't it. There's a touch of the "fear card" there, but it's so mild, it barely registers on the political Richter scale.

The only criticism I'd offer over the ad is the Truman quote: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." This has been a Clinton campaign staple since Thursday, when ABC's debate in Philadelphia drew widespread criticism.

But it really doesn't make any sense. Obama criticized the debate not because he "couldn't stand the heat," but because the questions were really dumb and elevated trivia over substance. What's more, it's Clinton who has complained about the media and debate questions for months (in one recent instance, she even complained about the media during a debate). In this sense, the closing message of the new commercial doesn't work at all.

Nevertheless, I suspect we'll be hearing quite a bit about it. Any ad that includes footage of bin Laden is going to be provocative; there's no way around that. In fact, I suspect far more people will see the ad on the news (for free) than during the commercial breaks -- which, I imagine, is part of the strategy.

Steve Benen

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