Obama Campaign Offers Tips for Arguing with Your Email-Fowarding Grandma

The Atlantic
Obama Campaign Offers Tips for Arguing with Your Email-Fowarding Grandma
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Obama Campaign Offers Tips for Arguing with Your Email-Fowarding Grandma

Why are the presidential candidates spending so much time raising so much money? To buy TV ads. In Ad Watch, we review the results of their heroic efforts as they come out. Today: The Obama campaign gives young supporters tips for talking to their conservative relatives about Obama's "you didn't build that" line, while Republicans continue attacking Obama for the same comment.

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The Ad: Barack Obama, "Stephanie Cutter: President Obama's Fight for Small Businesses"

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The Issues: Specifically a Romney ad editing an Obama speech to focus on the line "If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that." More generally, how young folks can defend Obama their old relatives.

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The Message: Romney's new campaign ad "blatantly twists President Obama's words on small business owners and entreprenuers," Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter says. "Romney's not telling the truth about what the president said." Cutter explains that Obama was saying that entrepreneurs worked hard for their success but know they were helped by their communities and public infrastructure. Then she says Romney knows this too, because Bain once got an bailout from the FDIC. The most interesting part is at the end, when Cutter says, "So please share this video with your friends. And not just your friends who already support the president. We all have a relative who spends all their time forwarding those crazy email chains. So make sure they get the facts too."

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Who'll See It: It's a web video, so the people looking for it will be reporters and Obama supporters. 

Who It's For: Cutter's lines at the end about email-forwarding relatives make it clear this is supposed to be a guide for young people arguing at dinner with their conservative parents or uncles or whatever. Polling and inbox data suggest young people are way more likely to support Obama, and old people are way more likely to forward weird political emails. The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib reports Tuesday that a "top campaign operative" thinks the portion of voters who will actually change their minds before the election is only between 6 percent and 10 percent.

What Everyone Else Thinks: It's true that Romney's ad takes some liberties in editing the audio of Obama's speech to remove the context. But note that this video does not actually show the full context of Obama's speech. That's because Obama also made a snippy comment about business owners wrongly thinking they're "so smart" that they achieved all their success on their own.

The Effect: As a talking points memo for the youth, the video is pretty good. It's awfully long at 2 minutes and 52 seconds, which shows the Obama campaign is nervous about this "you didn't build that" meme. B


The Ad: Republican National Committee, "These Aren't Gaffes"

The Issues: And this is why the Obama campaign is nervous about the "you didn't build that" meme -- Republicans are not going to drop it any time soon. This ad argues that Obama is too disconnected to understand how real people are being hurt by the weak economy. 

The Message: The ad puts the "built that" line among other Obama gaffes, like that "the private sector is doing fine," and that his jobs council hasn't met in six months. "These aren't gaffes. This is what Obama believes" the text says.

Who'll See It: It's a web video, so reporters and supporters.

Who It's For: Reporters, so they'll write that Obama's gaffes have a cumulative effect of showing he is anti-business and disconnected from regular people. 

What Everyone Else Thinks: The ad's title is correct: these aren't gaffes. They're words taken out of context.

The Effect: It's a good video listicle of Obama's economic misstatements, but the attempt at darkening the video to make it more ominous looks cheap. If your argument is that you're not misrepresenting Obama's words, then you shouldn't edit the video, right? The words are supposed to speak for themselves. C


The Ad: Pennsylvania Independent, "U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) REBUKES President Obama's 'You Didn't Build That' Comment"

The Issues: Obama's "build that" comment, again. 

The Message: This is not a political ad -- yet. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, seemed to suggest Obama was wrong to say "you didn't build that" in Harrisburg Monday. But the Romney campaign is going to make use of this video, Politico's James Hohmann reports. Casey said, "Everyone knows that when someone builds a business and is successful, they’re successful for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons they’re successful is they work hard. Usually, sometimes they just get lucky, but a lot of the times-- probably most of the time, at least in terms of people I’ve talked to over the years, its hard work. They have to study hard in school, you’ve got to work hard to develop capital, to get access to capital. You’ve got to take risks that sometime put you in a jam for a while and you’re fortunate enough to overcome that."

Who'll See It: Reporters and other nerds.

Who It's For: Reporters, so they'll say some Democrats are freaked out by Obama's populist tone.

What Everyone Else Thinks: Bob Casey worked hard to get elected to the Senate in Pennsylvania in 2006. He had to work extra hard because he is neither telegenic nor charismatic. One factor that might have helped him over come that -- aside from all his hard work, of course -- is the fact that his dad, Bob Casey, Sr., was the popular governor of Pennsylvania.

The Effect: It's not yet an ad, so we reserve judgement.


The Ad: Republican Senate candidate George Allen, "Devastating"

The Issues: When Congress struck a deal to raise the debt limit last year, they wrote the law so that to raise the debt ceiling again, they'd have to come up with a bipartisan deal to cut spending, or trigger consequences that were supposed to be so unthinkably bad that Congress would never let them happen. But now it looks like Congress might let them happen. They include letting all the Bush tax cuts expire and a huge cut to the defense budget, which is becoming a bigger issue in the presidential campaign. That wouldn't be very nice for Virginia, where Allen is running for Senate and where a big part of the defense industry is based.

The Message: "We work hard in Virginia, pulling our weight, making our way back. But a storm is coming," the ad says. More than 200,000 Virginia jobs could disappear, "but only one candidate will fight for Virginia's jobs and America's security."

Who'll See It: TV viewers in Virginia.

Who It's For: Voters nervous about the economy, annoyed by the lack of action in Washington, and the defense industry. 

What Everyone Else Thinks: Note that Allen does not explain how he'd fix the problem. Congress probably needs to vote on a deal by the end of the year -- before he'd get into office, if he wins the race to replace Sen. Jim Webb. 

The Effect: This is the rare negative ad that doesn't have to twist the facts to present a scary picture. The looming defense sequestration is real. Still, there's nothing innovative or unusual about the ad. C+

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