Who's to Blame for the Last Three Years?

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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: President Obama's campaign tries to fire up supporters by reminding them of all that's happened since 2008 while Mitt Romney argues that all that's happened in the last four years shows Obama isn't the guy he promised to be.

The Ad: Barack Obama, "Forward." 

The Issues: Obama's three years in office: were they productive or not?

The Message: The first three minutes of the ad show the severity of the financial crisis -- NBC News' Brian Williams calling it the "worst financial collapse since the Great Depression," Alan Greenspan saying it's a "once in a century type of event" -- and then all the things Obama did to try to fix it. Then comes the part that supposed to give the video tension -- evil Republicans saying "no" to everything all the time -- and it's pretty short. It seems like the ad's creators couldn't decide whether to argue that Obama couldn't get all the stuff done that he wanted to because Republicans were obstructionist or that Obama got a ton of things done. There's a big emphasis on social issues -- the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, "contraception coverage guaranteed," equal pay for women. "While there's still more to do there's been real progress," the narrator says.

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Who It's For: People who are already sympathetic to Obama and potentially will volunteer and donate small amounts of money to the campaign.

What Everyone Else Thinks: This is boring, where are the cute animal videos?

The Effect: To get people to watch 7 whole minutes of a political commercial, you have to be interesting. It's hard to imagine this ad is interesting, even to die-hard fans. A whole minute at the end consists of text repeating to Obama's accomplishments. The music is the kind of a standard cheesy song you usually find in political commercials from both Republicans and Democrats that plays while the sun rises on wholesome modest homes in the heartland. This video features some of that footage too, naturally. C-

The Ad: Mitt Romney, "Broken Promises: Spending"

The Issues: Government spending, the GSA scandal

The Message: Sure, we could see how you liked this guy four years ago, but Obama couldn't deliver on his promises to cut spending and created a "21st century bureaucracy." Spending has increased a lot, and the bureaucracy is out of control.

Who It's For: People who found Obama and his promise to bring a new tone to Washington appealing in 2008 and are disappointed in what's happened in the last few years. Plus: people who like movies about the weather, like Twister. There are some very scary clouds in this ad.

What Everyone Else Thinks: If you are the kind of person who gets up to make snacks during commercials, all you will hear of this ad is the old Obama giving his uplifting speeches. You will miss the scary dark clouds of today.

The Effect: The ad shows the gap between campaign speeches and governing reality. That's true of all presidents (George W. Bush promised to be a uniter, not a divider!). Nevertheless, this is the kind of ad that Romney needs if he wants to portray Obama as a nice guy who just isn't up to the job. B+

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.