Suppression and poop

    Watching campaign commercials is truly a chore – nearly as torturous as watching the Phillies try to hit with men on base – but since I get paid to do things like that, I doubled down late last week by going online and picking eight favorite ads from around the nation. I critiqued them in a Sunday newspaper column.

    One of those ads warrants a few more words, however. I find myself fascinated by the Republican front group that had the temerity to urge Nevada Latinos not to vote in the Reid-Angle Senate election – or, as the ad itself put it, “Don’t vote this November.”

    And some attention must be paid to the Pennsylvania TV ad that makes creative use of canine excrement. More on that ad in a moment. But first, let’s ponder the historic nature of the “don’t vote” commercial.  If only Niccolo Machiavelli was alive today to weigh in.

    Univision, the Latino broadcast network, has understandably decided not to air this stirring cry for civic irresponsibility, so henceforth the ad will live online only. But, as I mentioned in the Sunday column, it’s at least refreshing to see the Republicans stand up publicly for voter suppression – a tactic that in the past they have generally employed under the radar.

    There was a classic dust up during the ’80s, when the Republican National Committee was hauled into a New Jersey court for various voter suppression tactics. The RNC got some off-duty  law enforcement officials to stand at minority polling places; the party also financed some posters, which were put up in minority communities, warning that it was a crime to violate election laws. Ultimately, after being taken to court, the RNC was compelled by a consent decree to knock it off.

    Meanwhile, in states where Republican officials run the election process (Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, to cite only two), it’s amazing how often the minority precincts report shortages of voting machines, and an unusually large number of lost or discarded ballots. Currently, the Justice Department is investigating reports that “poll watchers” with ties to a Texas tea party group have intimidated early voters in the Houston area; all the affected polling places are in Latino and black neighborhoods.

    So let’s put our hands together for this Republican front group, which is cleverly titled Latinos for Reform. At least it’s transparent; the group knows it has no shot at winning over the fastest-growing ethnicity in the electorate, so why not just urge them to stay home (thereby lowering Harry Reid’s vote tally)? Honesty is to be applauded. But that’s the extent of my praise, because the ad makes it case for voter suppression by floating an argument that instantly evaporates when exposed to the rigors of reality.

    Robert de Posada, the brains behind the operation (he’s a former national director of Latino outreach for the GOP, and he has ties to tea-party astroturf leader Dick Armey), essentially said in the ad (via a narrator) that Latinos in Nevada should forgo voting in order to protest the Democrats’ failure to enact path-to-citizenship immigration reform:

    “President Obama and the Democratic leadership made a commitment that immigration reform would be passed within a year. But two years have gone by – and nothing. Not even a vote in Congress.”

    Gee. I wonder why two years have gone by without any movement toward immigration reform. Might that failure be somehow related to the fact that the Senate Republicans, in hock to their conservative base, have consistently blocked all efforts at enacting a path to citizenship?

    And is it not a fact of recent history that the conservative base thwarted President Bush back in 2006, when he sought to get immigration reform enacted? The base is so vocal on this issue that it also humbled John McCain, to the point where that longtime reform advocate dumped his old stance (2007: “I think the fence is least effective”) in order to grovel and pander to the right (2010: “Complete the dang fence”).

    Hence the game plan to suppress the vote of 12 percent of the Nevada electorate: Block the Democrats’ reform efforts in Congress, then persuade Latino citizens that they should blame the Democrats by boycotting the election. Reid’s opponent, tea-partier Sharron Angle, did put out a tut-tut statement last Wednesday – “No ad should ever discourage voters from voting, or expressing their opinions at the ballot box” – but that was just a good-cop pose, intended to buttress the bad cop’s message.

    Machiavelli is not returning calls for comment, but I believe he would be proud.


    Meanwhile, here’s an ad that didn’t make the cut in my column:

    People love their dogs. They often soften when politicians invoke their dogs. FDR got kudos back in 1944 when he humorously chided Republicans for attacking not just him, but his dog Fala (“I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them…his Scotch soul was furious”). And Richard Nixon famously saved his nascent national career in 1952 by invoking his dog Checkers.

    And now we have Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak, exhibiting not just his dog Belle, but Belle’s bagged waste as well: “My family loves Belle. But she can make a mess, and my family has to clean it up.” Metaphor alert? Yes. “I had to clean up the mess left behind by these guys (photos of George W. Bush and opponent Pat Toomey). They let Wall Street run wild. Now Pat Toomey’s attacking me for cleaning up his mess.” At which point Sestak brandishes the bag.

    This widely aired ad probably offends many voters, especially those who watch TV while eating; on the other hand, this ad may be partly responsible for Sestak’s success in erasing Toomey’s poll lead. First, it humanizes Sestak (who is sometimes faulted for being robotic and insufficiently user-friendly); and, more importantly, it synthesizes the anti-Republican message that cowering Democrats have long been struggling to articulate. Successful ads are visceral; sometimes you just have to give people the straight poop.

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