Get A Better Metaphor, Ctd

by Conor Friedersdorf

In a prior post, I wrote:

I’d suggest that folks who use this silly knife and bazooka analogy reflect on the politicians who are elected in the United States. Check out our presidents and senators. You won’t find a lot of people who take the bazooka approach to public discourse. Angry, self-righteous bile spewing isn’t actually effective.

A writer at Balloon Juice replies:

What would you call the Willie Horton ads, what would you call the Swiftboat ads, what would you call the “Daisy” ads? I get that in each case, the presidential candidate didn’t get tough with anybody, Mr. Gittes, his ad men did, but that’s a meaningless distinction, especially since young Conor is arguing against the political value of Keith Olbermann here.

Here's a short clip that includes the Willie Horton and Revolving Door ads. Its critics object that it subtly played on the racism and racial anxiety of Americans – its tone isn't self-righteous or bile-filled, however contemptible it is.

The Daisy Ad is here. Again, you don't see a candidate persuading voters by being angry and vitriolic. What you have is someone playing on the fears that his opponent is going to start a nuclear war. That's why, instead of Lyndon Johnson facing the camera and shouting at the top of his lungs, "THAT NO GOOD LUNATIC BARRY GOLDWATER IS GONNA GET US ALL KILLED," we see a little blond girl plucking petals from a flower.

Recommended Reading

Now watch the Swift Boat Captains For Truth ad. Do the veterans get angry? Do they shout and bloviate? In fact, they act as if they are hurt – as if they are pained by John Kerry's betrayal, and speaking out more in sorrow than anger.

I did not claim that lies don't work in political advertising, or that it is always ineffective to play on the fears and prejudices of voters. What I said is that angry, self-righteous bile spewing isn't effective – that is why you don't see politicians engage in it very often. When a politician knows he will be associated with an ad, it looks like this: