The General Election's Underway! What Kind of Cool Is Obama?

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The general election has begun! And so has the onslaught of campaign ads. Which ones succeed? Which fail? In Ad Watch, we review them as they come out. Today: Bill Clinton makes the case that only President Obama can make tough national security decisions, while Karl Rove makes the case that Obama's an empty suit.

The Ad: Barack Obama, "One Chance"

The Issues: National security, or more specifically, Osama bin Laden is dead.

The Message: This is the 2012 version of the 2008 ad, created by Hillary Clinton's campaign in the Democratic primary, about who you should trust to take that "3 a.m. phone call." If there's a national emergency, do you want a lightweight or a cool-headed decider taking that call? Except this time it's to Obama's advantage, and the emergency is not a hypothetical. 

Who It's For: "Security moms," if such artificial sub-categories of voters can accurately represent real humans, as well as people who are tired of petty bickering in Washington. Now that it's been more than a decade since Bill Clinton left office, some people (mostly falsely) remember him presiding over a less partisan time. There's a reason Clinton mentions George W. Bush in the first few seconds of the video.

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What Everyone Else Thinks: On the right, that Obama is taking credit for the work of the brave men and women of the armed forces. On the left, it reinforces the idea that Obama is not significantly different from his predecessor -- he invaded an ally's air space to kill a person who posed no immediate threat to the Navy Seals who shot him.

The Effect: The ad is pretty powerful, and the only really cheesy moments are those lingering shots of Obama looking out the window. It's a little bit dark, and maybe a little petty at the end, plus it's an odd choice to use reporters quoting Mitt Romney, instead a clip of Romney himself saying the line in question.  A-

The Ad: American Crossroads, "Cool"

The Issues: The economy is still not so great, almost four years after the financial crisis.

The Message: Obama is a flake, and too self-involved and vain to do the dirty work of fixing the economy. 

Who It's For: Conservatives, old people, people who fondly remember Ferris Bueller's Day Off, because that's where Karl Rove's group got the song. This is another ad borrowed from 2008 -- the one aired by John McCain calling Obama "the biggest celebrity in the world." Now, the 2012 ad says, we have a "celebrity president" and that hasn't worked out so well for jobless new graduates.

What Everyone Else Thinks: Barack Obama, he's just like us! The ad shows Obama going on late night talk shows, but as a 1992 memo from the Bill Clinton campaign argued -- and perhaps his subsequent election demonstrated -- doing such "unpresidential" stuff helps Americans identify with the candidate.

The Effect: Has there been a moment in history -- in high school, in politics, in sports, whatever -- where the uncool have successfully convinced the masses that the cool guy isn't all that cool? Or that being cool is lame? It didn't work when Democrats tried it against George W. Bush. This appears to be an ad meant to amuse conservatives than to win over people. On the other hand, it's not nearly as annoying as most political ads. It's kind of fun to watch! B

The Ad: Americans for Prosperity, "Wasteful Spending"

The Issues: Stimulus money that went to clean energy companies, unemployment

The Message: Obama's green energy subsidies can only create jobs for foreigners, while deserving Americans continue to suffer. 

Who It's For: People skeptical about global warming, people frustrated that the economy's not better yet. The group, backed by the Koch brothers, is spending $6 million to air the ad in these swing states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia.

What Everyone Else Thinks: I can't believe we're going to have to sit through six more months of this.

The Effect: The ad succeeds in making Obama's economic policies look ineffective, and green subsidies look pointless. But unlike the two ads above, it uses the same style of millions of political ads that have come before it: a slightly sneering narrator droning on as numbers flash over the screen. It's hard to imagine anyone sitting through it more than once. C

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