The message President Obama will be pushing as he officially launches his reelection campaign this weekend is clear, thanks to the seven-minute video ad released by his campaign earlier this week.
Entitled “Forward,” the video spends a good deal of time looking backward — not just to the achievements of his first term, but to the scale of the economic crisis that confronted him when he first took office.
The ad also implicitly blames President George W. Bush for that recession. An image of Bush appears in the background as the 2008 financial crash is recalled. But while Obama’s promise of a definitive break with the Bush years paid off four years ago, the attempt to hold his predecessor culpable for the ongoing economic malaise may be less effective with the passage of time.
“From a messaging standpoint, they couldn’t help themselves from doing what they always do, which is going back to Bush,” said Ben Burger, a partner at the Republican firm SRCP Media.
Burger said that in trying to “put the anchor around Bush” for the nation’s travails, the president’s team was trying “to avoid looking at how Obama has steered the economy as a whole.”
Still, an incumbent president running for reelection against a backdrop of high unemployment may have little choice. There is a growing consensus that the jobless rate will be around 8 percent come Election Day. Obama would be the first incumbent reelected with such high unemployment since President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 and 1940. Like Roosevelt, Obama needs to convince voters that the economy is moving in the right direction.
If the electorate comes to accept the verdict of former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, as shown in the video — “This is a once in a half-century, probably once in a century, type of event” — they are more likely to give Obama credit for having made progress than they are to punish him for unemployment remaining at historically elevated levels.
Veteran Democrat media consultant Bill Carrick told The Hill that the ad “strongly makes the point that things were going downhill precipitously and outlines what President Obama tried to do about it.”
Carrick added: “I have for quite a while had the feeling that if the president can put his term of office in context, and if people are willing to take a comprehensive view of it, then he has a very strong chance of being re-elected.”
The video also makes some telling choices in terms of focus when looking back on Obama’s first term.
It includes a dramatic recap of the president’s decision to send a team of Navy SEALS to Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden. It devotes about one-tenth of its total duration — around 45 seconds — to this and the broader battle against al-Qaeda.
The president’s signature legislative achievement of healthcare reform is dealt with much more fleetingly.
Most polls continue to show that public opinion is deeply divided, and leans negative, on the 2010 healthcare law as a whole. Some of its constituent parts, however — including the ban on insurance companies refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions — are broadly popular.
The new ad mirrors this reality, highlighting the more popular specifics. In what looks like an appeal to female voters, for example, it notes “contraception [is] guaranteed.”
Republican ad-maker Fred Davis, who created the 2008 McCain campaign commercial that mocked Obama as a celebrity — and included footage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton — said in an email response that the “Forward” ad was “good propaganda”.
But he added: “Just 1-2 sentences on Obamacare? [I] thought that was his crowning achievement, when the rest of the world only cared about the economy?”
The ad also stresses the monolithic nature of Republican opposition to Obama, with the narrator asserting that “instead of working together to lift America up, Republicans were waging a campaign to tear the president down.”
Notably, the first faces to appear on the ad as personifications of the GOP are not elected representatives but the popular-yet-divisive broadcasters Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
Still, the new ad earned plaudits, on style if not on substance, even from some Republicans.
GOP strategist Mark McKinnon told The Hill, “My gut reaction is that’s damn good. It feels authentic and credible which is hard to achieve these days but [is] more important than ever given the cynical condition of voters.”