Political Hay

The Apple of My Eye

The last thing Ms. Hillary needed was to be immortalized on YouTube.

By 3.28.07

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In a "scandal" only the Beltway could care about, an employee of a firm contracting with Barack Obama's campaign was revealed as the maker of the widely watched anti-Hillary YouTube video mimicking the Orwellian Apple Computer ad. Aside from the silliness of the breathless inquiries (What did Obama know about the ad and when did he know it?), something serious is going on and it is not good for Hillary Clinton.

A blogger with one of the GOP campaigns makes the point that most political ads should tell you something -- about the candidate's biography or record, or his opponent. If you don't learn anything, why make the ad, he asks. By this measure, the YouTube ad is not "successful." But it is devastatingly insightful.

There is a latent sense of dread in the Democratic base that Hillary has no political soul or imagination. Part of this is her own doing. She shied away from the big fights in the Senate, whether on judges or domestic surveillance, and tried to burnish her "moderate" credentials by backing the Iraq War and trivial measures on flag burning and violent videos. "I'm in it to win it" sounded appallingly self-centered and content lacking. By condescendingly offering a "conversation" with the American people in a video worthy of the best Hollywood production, she only fueled the arguments that she was too cautious and too scripted.

Next the comedians and the ex-friends got into the act. Saturday Night Live's Hillary impersonator reassured the faux Chris Matthews that her supporters "understand that my support for the war was always insincere." Then David Geffen had the temerity to say what many had been mulling only in private moments of introspection. "She's so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base," he told Maureen Dowd. His stiletto did not stop there, declaring: ""God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton?"

That's where the YouTube video comes in. It didn't tell us anything we didn't already know, but it was the most visually interesting and culturally clever take on what the liberal base has been buzzing about for months. It was the ultimate "in joke" -- giving a knowing wink both to the Apple crowd and the liberal base.

It also confirms a political truism: it's the pictures that matter. By now we know that seeing something on YouTube is much more effective than reading about it. Just ask Governor Romney whose heartfelt pro-choice pledges captured on video drove home his flip-flops in a way the printed words could not.

So if the YouTube ad doesn't teach, it does provoke and give voice to that nagging sense of dissatisfaction among the liberal base that Hillary has gone "corporate." If the ad permeates the cultural zeitgeist, the image of Hillary as "Big Brother" is going to drown out the "Go girl!" message of political groundbreaker and gender champion.

What makes the Hillary YouTube video even more effective is that there is no response. A candidate usually has an explanation on a prior vote ("I voted against the defense bill because it had too much extraneous pork") or even a verbal gaffe ("I didn't mean that lives were wasted in Iraq"). How does Hillary respond to this one? "I am TOO spontaneous and heartfelt" likely won't be very convincing. Unlike John McCain, she never had a Straight Talk bus she can roll out of the garage to recapture an edgier, more transparent persona. For 15 years she's looked out at the world through the tinted windows of a limousine. What is more, each overproduced video and news story of her machine-like campaign only serves to reinforce the YouTube message.

Perhaps she can take solace in the thought that sooner or later another candidate will have his turn in the YouTube dunk tank. The power of this decentralized, culturally cutting edge visual media will soon enough be turned on someone else. Unfortunately for Hillary, that Apple ad image sure is hard to forget.

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