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Iowa Ads, Reviewed

If you’re like most citizens, then personal impressions mean more to you when deciding whom to vote for than, say, a good campaign platform. So, short of having the presidential candidates over for dinner, you just might glean an ounce or two of insight from the latest crop of TV ad campaigns. And crop is the word for it: With most ads loaded with sweeping shots of sunny days and corn fields and wheat billowing gently behind a candidate’s frozen grin, it is as though there’s a camera on every acre of Iowa that shoots locally grown footage just waiting to find a home on Hillary’s or Mitt’s or Rudy’s or Barack’s campaign reels, where it can serve to remind Iowans that they are the really real Americans.

Which is perhaps why the Republicans have decided to focus their ire on immigrant, non-American, border-jumpers. In this season of (mainly) non-attack ads, there’s little in the way of candidate-specific fear-mongering--black-and-white imagery with a deep voiced thug saying something along the lines of, “You could vote for Hillary Clinton, but then you’d probably wake up to a soulless America where abortions are as common as sensible shoes and the White House throws NAMBLA parties and is painted pink.” And so, the only place for true fear rests with immigration. Take Mitt Romney’s anti-illegal immigration ad, which scared the crap out of me. With a soundtrack that's alternatively soaring and terrifying, it’s hard not to feel a little shaken up by the end and, oddly, guilty. Ever been accused of something you know you didn’t do, but you can’t help but think, I wasn’t really in Biloxi with a machete last Tuesday, was I? So it is with the Romney ad, which makes me want to keep checking my passport just to make sure I’m all good and that Mitt The Enforcer won’t send me to some crazy Martial  Law prison in the middle of the Nevada desert.



Rudy Giuliani is a touch more precise when it comes to immigration. Look at this:



He thinks everyone in America ought to read English, write English, and “understand American civics.” Understand American civics? Does Giuliani mean that in order to live in this country you must understand civics, like those taking place on Thursday? Civics like, say, that there isn’t an election in Iowa, just caucuses, which are chaotic powwows in which the most annoying person bears down on a group until everyone swings his or her way or gives up and moves on to another caucus room where they then defend their second-choice candidate, and enough second choices can beat a few first choices to create a “winner” that no one voted for because the first real vote is in New Hampshire where people live free and die and have weird criteria about candidates and therefore struggle to decide between people like Bill Bradley and Alan Keyes, but even that doesn’t really matter, because if you live in, say, Massachusetts or Tennessee, your vote in the general election doesn’t count, and even if you live in a swing state, your vote may contribute to your state’s giving electoral votes to a candidate who hasn’t won the broader popular vote? And … breathe. So, civics? Bring it on. Educate me Giuliani, because I sure don’t freakin’ understand any of it.


Of course all of that immigration nonsense is better than Giuliani’s distasteful use of 9/11.



This ad literally defines America as “the last best hope for man on earth.” Um, is this a campaign ad or a promo for I Am Legend?


After ads like Romney’s and Giuliani’s, I found it surprisingly easy to see just why Mike Huckabee has surged.



“My plan to secure the border? Two words: Chuck Norris.” “There’s no chin behind Chuck Norris’s beard, there’s just another fist.” “Chuck Norris doesn’t endorse, he tells America how it’s gonna be.” Sold. Get Huckabee into the White House stat, and let’s have him take over for the writers on strike in Hollywood while we’re at it. This guy has a gift.


Barack Obama has a few celebrity endorsements himself. But instead of foisting the queen of daytime on Iowans during ads (there’s plenty of that on the stump), Obama has kept things a touch more subtle by turning to his old prof, Laurence Tribe.



The Harvard Law impresario is downright inspired by Obama, who could have “written his ticket on Wall Street,” but decided instead to “devote [his brilliance] to the community.” This is something I can relate to. I dropped out of law school at Georgetown--where I could have learned how to become a highly paid attorney--but decided instead to devote my genius to critiquing ad campaigns. You’re welcome, America; you are welcome.


And then there is Hillary. For those of us who believe that Hillary Clinton arrived on our fair planet fully formed with a closet full of pantsuits, a kind of political Golem borne from the id of K Street lobbyists, it was a shock--a shock!--to see Clinton and her “mother” in an ad side-by-side, as if they’d known each other all their lives.



I don’t know who that actress is or how much Clinton is paying her to “live” with her, but I’ll take my Hillary straight-up smart, ambitious, and cutthroat, thank you very much. I want the woman who makes Republicans cry at night and strikes fear into the hearts of conservative children everywhere, not this phony who drinks coffee and looks at old photos (Hillary scrapbooking?) in the kitchen, of all rooms, with her “mom.” Feh.

And, lastly, we come to John Edwards--the heartbreaker, the tear-jerker, the one with feelings. Think the other candidates care about the middle class or fighting poverty? Think again. Edwards is the Chuck Norris of empathy.



With the Coldplay-esque piano ascension in the background and the earnest appeals of the North Carolinian with the heart o’ gold at the fore, it’s hard not to get choked up. But then try to watch the “Heroes” ad without shedding a tear:



I mean honestly, it is just not fair--even though his wife has terminal, incurable cancer, they at least have health care; they are the lucky ones! I mean who can compete with that kind of humbleness? Unfortunately, all the “dudn’t”s (doesn’t!) and “wudn’t”s (wasn’t!) drive me mad. I mean, I don’t think I can stand another four years of doofy pronunciations.

And so, in the strange multiplex that is the ’08 presidential race, there seems to be a little something for everyone: horror (Romney), science fiction (Giuliani), comedy (Huckabee), inspiration (Obama), John Waters (Clinton), and The Notebook (Edwards). If only I knew what the candidates’ policies were.

 Sacha Zimmerman is the Special Online Projects Manager for The New Republic.

By Sacha Zimmerman