Sometimes when everyone is shouting, only a whisper can be heard.
This is the thinking behind a powerful new anti-Barack Obama ad that seeks to tap not the nation's anger but the country's sadness.
"Mourning in America," which is hitting the national airwaves, is a poignant takeoff of Ronald Reagan's iconic "Morning in America" ad. Whatever one's political affiliation, it is impossible to watch this new ad and not feel, well, sad.
Everyone's angry. But anger is cheap and tired. Rode hard and hung up wet, as we say down South. Most Americans are also sad. The always bountiful America seems on the edge of famine, spiritual if not literal, though the latter seems all too possible as jobs disappear and businesses close.
The ad, which can be viewed on YouTube (http://bit.ly/9NUS4r), cites the latest statistics of unemployment and foreclosure, and other facts that illustrate the rupture of the social contract — the idea that our children could, should and would do better than we. Or at least as well.
Echoing closely the text of Reagan's ad, the new one is shot in darker, more somber light. Here's Reagan:
"It's morning again in America. Today, more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history."
The new ad, produced by Citizens for the Republic, a group of organizers who identify themselves as friends and fans of Reagan, is less sunny:
"There's mourning in America. Today, 15 million men and women won't have the opportunity to go to work. Businesses shuttered. Twenty-nine hundred families will have their homes foreclosed by nightfall. This afternoon, 6,000 men and women will be married, each of their children to be born with a $30,000 share of the runaway national debt."
The camera pans to an infant — burdened with debt.
This is a smart ad, created by Fred Davis of Strategic Perception, one of the GOP's favorite admen. Davis produced commercials for George W. Bush and John McCain but is perhaps best known for his "Demon Sheep" ad for Carly Fiorina. Davis thinks his latest will stand out because when "everyone else is shouting, a whisper can be the most powerful form of communication. And God knows the world is shouting."
The ad is not subtle in blaming current circumstances on Obama. Quite the contrary, the narrator says that under the president's leadership, the United States is "fading, and weaker, and worse off." In a gesture of charity, perhaps, the ad allows: "His policies were a grand experiment, policies that failed."
Can't blame the man for trying? Good guy, bad policies? To the point: Vote Republican in November and "choose a smaller, more caring government, one that remembers us."
Ads come and go. Many tap into the ambient anger. But "Mourning" aims straight for the emotional solar plexus and hits its mark. As someone behind the scenes in the ad's production told me: "It says what we know in our hearts, that something is terribly wrong.
"In 1984, Americans were more optimistic about their future. Now, Americans feel uncertain and are deeply concerned about the direction of the country. . . . This president truly looks at America differently than Reagan did. Reagan saw America as a shining beacon to the old world. Obama explicitly rejects American exceptionalism. . . . America in 2010 is suffering from a failed leader and failed economic policies."
Whether this ad succeeds remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the more relevant question is: Is it true? Is Obama responsible for our near-dire circumstances?
I have never been a fan of presidents who place blame on their predecessors or who accept credit for events that couldn't have been engineered so soon in their tenure. Politicians will always massage the data to tell the story their way. Bill Clinton's happy economy surely owed some credit to Reagan. George W. Bush's ill fortunes surely had at least some of their roots in Clinton's lack of attentiveness. Obama clearly inherited a load of fertilizer, but his policies also have exacerbated those effects. Obama's successor most certainly will benefit or suffer to some degree from seeds the current president planted.
Nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that Obama's ideas were too big for America's appetite. It would have been nice had he made a few incremental repairs to the economy and left the transformative events for a less stressful time.
But this is not the way presidents operate. They want to make their mark, create a legacy, go down in history as having a made a difference.