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Saturday, October 27, 2012

With Friends Like These: Obama's "First Time" Ad

What would the last two weeks before an election be without some fun controversy to divert us from real issues, eh?  The Obama campaign's "First Time" ad compares voting to sex, and urges young women to vote for the President's re-election.

I find the ad distasteful, as do many others, but my point here is not to criticize the ad or its message per se.  I do not know what the political effect will be.  It might be that voters targeted by the ad find it informative or funny, and perhaps it will end up gaining the President some votes.  But it is certainly possible that the backlash created by the ad will have quite the opposite effect.

Which brings me to my point.  One of the reason the Supreme Court has protected independent expenditures in cases from Buckley to Citizens United has been that such expenditures may not be a help to the campaign.  That is, it's unfair to limit a candidate's ability to speak because someone else has spoken for him, when the supporter's speech is different from the message that the candidate would prefer to make.  Until now, I have used hypotheticals to illustrate the Court's point, but this ad illustrates it better than I could have imagined -- even though this was an Obama campaign ad and not the speech of an independent group.

Posted by Michael Dimino on October 27, 2012 at 01:11 AM | Permalink

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You're possibly too white, male, conservative, or (relatively) old to appreciate this. I can't tell if you're morally offended by the first time/voting comparison or if it's that you don't understand the early-20s-urban-female culture this kind of joke comes out of. If it's the former, would you be surprised to learn that Reagan told a folksier version of this joke in his 1980 campaign ( it was in the Washington post. Google it.)? If it's the latter, you might rent her first film, Tiny Furniture, or watch the first season of Girls. The thing is, most of the people this ad targets find it laugh-out-loud funny. If you're comfortable being out of touch with "kids today" it probably won't both you that you don't get it, but it should.

Posted by: anon | Oct 27, 2012 1:51:09 AM

I knew about the Reagan comment and I'm not sure it was in good taste either. Another time Johnny Carson asked him how he would hold the line on government spending if he were elected, and Reagan analogized the task to keeping one's virtue: he would have to learn to say "no." I do not have a problem with references to sex; I think (as I said) that this latest one was done in a distasteful manner.

More important, the lesson of this controversy is that more people will view a controversial ad than the ones for whom it is targeted. So even assuming that the "early-20s-urban-female culture" tends to find the ad funny, if it alienates more voters (say, parents) than it pleases, it will cause a net loss of votes. It's the same lesson we learned (or should have learned) from Obama's cling-to-guns-and-religion comment and from Romney's 47% comment: Campaigns need to expect that remarks made to one audience will eventually reach different ones.

Posted by: Mike Dimino | Oct 27, 2012 2:14:40 AM

The difference between this ad and the remarks referenced above is that those were moments in which the candidates were speaking without the intention of having what they were saying spread to the larger population while the ad was clearly designed to speak to young female voters. I imagine most who hear it that are outside that specific audience will ignore it.

Posted by: Christie | Oct 27, 2012 6:11:50 AM

I agree with Mike about independent expenditures. But I'm not quite sure how this illustrates the point, since clearly the campaign itself wanted this particular message.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Oct 27, 2012 7:35:51 AM

I believe that Obama already had the Ironic vote locked up, to the limited extent that the Ironic vote.
I doubt that this ad gained him a single vote, and it probably lost him a few.

Posted by: jt | Oct 27, 2012 6:19:30 PM

jt; "to the limited extent that the Ironic vote" is exactly the point... it undoubtedly will gain him more than one vote...

Posted by: Ian | Oct 28, 2012 12:03:24 PM

There are many segments of the population and some of what some of them are going to say to fellow travelers are going to lead someone to think it is in bad taste. With respect, shocker. Note how Reagan "might" be in bad taste though why the two are different to any real sense (especially since tastes has become coarser since then to some extent) is unclear.

I also don't know why this video, which doesn't seem like something the Obama campaign would really find problematic as compared to some snide comment about "Mittens" or something not off color but disparaging in a distasteful way, is such a good example of the independent expenditure point. She clearly speaks for a segment of the Democratic base, many finding the ad amusing or simply not offensive. As to "probably lost him a few," who would have voted for him except for this? The really lame?

Posted by: Joe | Oct 29, 2012 11:49:07 AM

There are many segments of the population and some of what some of them are going to say to fellow travelers are going to lead someone to think it is in bad taste. With respect, shocker. Note how Reagan "might" be in bad taste though why the two are different to any real sense (especially since tastes has become coarser since then to some extent) is unclear.

I also don't know why this video, which doesn't seem like something the Obama campaign would really find problematic as compared to some snide comment about "Mittens" or something not off color but disparaging in a distasteful way, is such a good example of the independent expenditure point. She clearly speaks for a segment of the Democratic base, many finding the ad amusing or simply not offensive. As to "probably lost him a few," who would have voted for him except for this? The really lame?

Posted by: Joe | Oct 29, 2012 11:49:15 AM

Incredibly, another example: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/pro-obama-ad-has-children-singing-about-an-america-where-sick-people-just-die-oil-fills-the-sea/

Posted by: Mike Dimino | Oct 29, 2012 4:10:34 PM

What's "incredibl[e]"? I see that the Glenn Beck site that you cite is displeased with the ad, but does that make it incredibl[e] in any sense?

Posted by: Sam | Oct 29, 2012 4:51:18 PM

As a strategy for convincing lots of first time voters within a demographic that overwhelmingly supports Obama to brave the elements on election day, I'd say this ad could prove a smashing success. The Get Off My Lawn crowd who are likely to be offended by its tone and content are far less likely to vote for the President anyway. The math works in the campaign's favor.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 29, 2012 4:54:18 PM

While I'm not sure Obama has the ironic vote entirely locked up (see also Green and Libertarian candidates), I'm fairly sure Romney has the "men who are uncomfortable with young adult women being playful and assertive about their sexuality" vote locked down.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Oct 29, 2012 6:59:34 PM

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