Democrat Jon Ossoff has lost the most expensive race for a House seat in US history. Republican Karen Handel beat him by pert near four points, becoming the new representative of Georgia’s sixth congressional district and shattering Democrats’ hope of retaking the House with the aid of a fortunate meteor strike. This election was not very important. To hear FiveThirtyEight and various other pundits tell it, it wasn’t even good for a bellwether. The only thing we can say conclusively is that it occasioned the spending of more money—about $55 million, by the Times’s count—than was ever before spent on a congressional race.
Was it worth it? Not for Democrats, who only managed to wedge another loss for low-agenda centrism into their electoral postseason. I hesitate to say it was worth it for Republicans, either. They squeezed donors tightly to increase by one their majority in a chamber that seats 435. But at least a shitload of consultants got paid—and in an off year, no less. Say what you will about the Democrats’ recent streak of expensive moral victories; at least it’s funded commercials like this:
I’m no veteran campaign operative, but I think the idea for this advertisement was actually an idea for some tweets. What does this message gain from becoming a video? Maybe the campaign wanted to reach voters who watch television instead of using the internet but still admire people who stare numbly at their phones. Perhaps their research found that voters in GA-6 liked Jon Ossoff but wanted him to more strongly resemble a two-episode character on Veep. Or maybe the old ad-budget pie got sliced up in a way that left an off piece.
But wait, you say, ever on the lookout for opportunities to be charitable, this looks like B-roll footage. Maybe this ad was made from the kind of bland, soundless footage campaigns release publicly so that unaffiliated groups can use it in their own spots. The whole tweeting conceit is probably just a clever workaround. But no, the last frames inform us that the ad was paid for by Jon Ossoff for Congress and, almost as improbably, approved by Jon Ossoff.
It’s easy to second-guess the Democratic Party lately, and I think now is a good time to remember that no one else has demonstrated any better understanding of how to beat Republican candidates. But ads like this one explore the limits of campaigning without a strong policy agenda. To a lot of viewers, this is footage of a bland corporate type promising not to be Donald Trump. That doesn’t offer much to voters who worry that bland corporate types are running the country into the ground—a description that covers a substantial portion of the electorate, plus many of the people who hold themselves outside it. It’s funny how limp Democratic messaging has become. But only for a second, and then I get scared.
Real Montanans Rob Quist and Greg Gianforte, with guns
In only three weeks, the voters of Montana will select a new congressman to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who vacated his seat as our sole representative in the US House to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. It’s an exciting race. Democrat Rob Quist, at left above, is a locally famous folk singer who has never held public office. Republican Greg Gianforte, at right, is a millionaire tech entrepreneur who ran for governor in 2016 but has also never held public office. Both men were chosen by their parties, rather than by the usual primary process, to run in the special election. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real Montanans like me and, to a lesser extent, you. Why, just look at how they shoot guns!
That’s Greg Gianforte, wearing very clean work clothes and shooting a twelve-gauge at some office equipment in a field. Whoever did the voiceover for this one belongs in the Scary Ad Voice hall of fame. He says “national gun registry” in the scandalized tone most of us would reserve for “lobster in her vagina.” As you can see from this spot, candidate Gianforte loves guns and hates computers. That’s a sharp contrast with candidate Quist, who loves guns and hates Gianforte.
In the future, all political discourse will be conducted by shooting things that represent ideas. All candidates will be celebrities and tycoons with no record of public service, who are operated by their parties via remote control. What’s striking about these two ads is their near-total similarity. Creeping similarity has been a real problem in this contest between two supposedly different candidates for the House, which has amounted to a dance-off of affected pandering to a political consultant’s idea of Montana.
What if Montanans picked their leaders based on something other than who shoots a gun and lives on a ranch? What if the parties gave us to understand that our decisions could mean something besides “support Trump” or “stop Trump?” What if Montana politics were not, at this moment, captured entirely by cynics? These questions are academic. You can read all about them in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find an object that represents exemptions for pre-existing conditions on the individual health insurance market and prop it up on a fencepost. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.
Black men applaud Kendall Jenner in a Pepsi commercial.
One day after releasing a three-minute ad with original music, a multi-character storyline, and at least one helicopter shot—as well as another Kardashian everyone seems to know but me—Pepsi has pulled its Kendall Jenner commercial. Is this the fastest an American company has ever pulled an ad? No—that would be the disastrous Quaker Oats Company spot where Mikey refuses Life cereal until he dies of starvation, which ran for one afternoon in 1994. But this is pretty close. What is it about this commercial that so immediately enraged people? Pepsi gives us a hint in today’s statement:
Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.
Yeah, Kendall Jenner has suffered enough. But what’s this about making light of serious issues? The problem seems to be that this ad conspicuously elides serious issues of all kinds. Video after the jump.
“I got a six-figure check for separating twins / I got a [bleep] like that for putting them in.”
By now you have heard of Ben Carson’s rap ad, which is playing on urban radio stations across the southeast and in waiting rooms throughout hell. You can listen to it here, or just wait to hear it bumping from a Buick Lucerne. It’s possible Carson should not have made a rap ad. The circumstances that led him to do so seem fortuitous: self-described “Republican Christian rapper” Aspiring Mogul, aka Robert Donaldson, sent a song to Carson’s campaign manager after seeing the biopic Gifted Hands. The Carson campaign put Asp-Mo’s song on its Facebook page, and from there it was a logical step to collaborating on a rapping campaign spot that goes like this:
Vote and support Ben Carson / for our next president to be awesome. / If we want to get America back on track, / we gotta vote Ben Carson, a matter of fact.
Those are the two couplets by Aspiring Mogul that made it into the one-minute ad; the rest is sound bites—I guess samples—from Carson’s speeches. There is also a flute loop. From a certain perspective, it makes sense that Carson would release a rap ad. But from another, better perspective, it makes no sense at all.
From the depths of his fatherhood, Ben al-Fowlkes sent me this Bubble Tape commercial of the early 90s—right at the intersection of Max Headroom and MTV. The Baby Boomers had recently assumed control of broadcast media, but they retained their identity as the first generation in history to see through institutional authority. They still didn’t buy what the man was selling, but their lives had progressed to the point where they were selling it. The generation told not to trust anyone over 30 was now in charge of marketing long gum to children. Naturally, they employed the message that most resonated with them: old people are not cool. As the Boomers grew even more hideously aged in the decades that followed, that idea would mutate into “most people are not cool.” The notion that you could be different from most people by buying something would become the central premise of American advertising.