Since everyone is calling this the YouTube campaign and my vote is still up for grabs, I thought I would see what each of the candidates were up to on the video-sharing site. The rules of the game were simple — go to each candidate’s YouTube page and watch the first and/or most prominent video there. For length of that video, I would be the candidate’s captive audience. (Well, except Hunter and Tancredo — there’s only so many hours in a day. If it makes their respective campaigns feel any better, I only included Ron Paul for the potential entertainment value.)
The question is: Can a tiny bit of flash video win me over? I rated each video according to the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Candidate: Mitt Romney
Title: “Change Begins With Us”
Description: Pretty boiler plate example of a 30-second political ad.
The Good: Romney states, “Republicans have to put our own house in order.” He’s explicitly acknowledging that given the way Republican scandals are trending, a GOP congressmen is likely to be caught mistaking a petting zoo for a brothel any day now. Romney is condemning the current climate of corruption even as he astutely points out that personal hypocrisy doesn’t invalidate the morals the GOP claims to stand for.
The Bad: He’s still subtly reminding people that his party is the one with all scandals. Further, if I were a Mormon who says his favorite novel is written by the founder of Scientology and once admitted he took a ten hour car trip with the family dog strapped to the roof, I’d steer clear talking about how others are Jay Leno punch lines. One more slip up on the campaign trail, and it’ll be “Take my wives please!” [RIMSHOT]
The Ugly: Nothing really, except everything’s a little too perfect — from the foliage in the background to the immaculately coiffed hair, everything is in its right place. In fact, I wonder if this commercial was shot in the Uncanny Valley. If Mitt’s faceplate fell off at the end and the circuits behind his eyes started sparking, it would explain a lot.
Candidate: Rudy Giuliani
Title: “Running With Rudy: National House Party Night”
Description: A video going behind the scenes of the candidate’s latest webcast.
The Good: Nothing really. I’m really kind of wondering why this is up on YouTube, let alone the first thing you see on his candidate page.
The Bad: Everything. The video begins with low-energy montage of Rudy on various stages, set to a slice of 80s cheese rock so bad it sounds like the song could have been written by Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly’s band in Boogie Nights. From there we cut to the video’s ostensible host, a young Republican straight from the factory who’s either trying too hard for the camera or just smug. The video begins with him standing in front of stairs. He then introduces us to a dog. Don’t ask.
As if this weren’t scintillating enough, what follows is a behind-the-scenes tour of Giuliani’s latest webcast, being staged at a New Jersey McMansion. The video is going out live to groups of supporters around the country — including a group in London! But seriously, behind the scenes of a webcast? If you can think of anything more boring than that, please contact your local public television program director. Before the brief tour of the satellite truck even ended I was… Ooh! Is that paint drying? Not even a surprise guest appearance by Yogi Berra can save this video because it’s 90-percent annoying and the other half is just boring.
The Ugly: Halfway through the video we catch a little bit of Giuliani speaking in front of a large fireplace. The sound is so low that I cranked up my computer to hear it. But then I forgot about the volume levels. The video was jarringly loud when the host returned, causing me to close the webpage, never to return.
Candidate: Fred Thompson
Title: “Fred Thompson Announces his Candidacy for President”
Description: A 15-minute speech given in front of a flag in his study which is redolent of oak and leather.
The Good: Thompson announces his candidacy and then proceeds to give a whirlwind tour of his personal history and his stance on just about every policy issue under the sun. For such a wide ranging speech, it’s polished and flows well. It leaves you with the impression Fred is a serious candidate — an image he needs to cultivate.
The Bad: It’s looooong. Fifteen minutes may not seem like much, but watching a tiny window on your computer makes YouTube minutes seem like dog years. There’s also nothing about this somber video that would appeal to younger voters, one of YouTube’s prime audiences.
The Ugly: Fred’s attire and the setting are very dark — it looks like it is being filmed in a funeral home. Also, that exaggerated head bob thing they tell you to do in order look “natural” when talking on camera? Yeah, not so much. Fred’s herky-jerky jowls keep jutting out in way that’s downright creepy. Is that Fred Thompson, or is this the DVD extras for Sling Blade?
Candidate: John McCain
Title: “Courageous Service”
Description: If Ken Burns directed a 12-minute version of John McCain’s autobiography Faith of My Fathers.
The Good: McCain’s life story is pretty amazing and the production values are top notch. The story he tells about a Vietnamese prison guard who secretly relieves him of torture because he’s a fellow Christian is oft told, but genuinely affecting. The repeated appearances of McCain’s mother — who has to be well into her 90s — are a hoot.
The Bad: This video says absolutely nothing about anything policy related — there’s a lot said about McCain the war hero, but nothing about McCain the Senator or McCain the would-be-President. And while (unlike John Kerry) McCain’s certainly earned the right, there’s something kind of unseemly about playing up your war record this much on the campaign trail.
The Ugly: McCain looks O-L-D. He looks like he needs Metamucil and a nap, not like he is ready to take on the insane schedule that accompanies being leader of the free world.
Candidate: Mike Huckabee
Title: “Vertical Day Video Conference”
Description: Mike rambles for 27 minutes.
The Good: Moving right along…
The Bad: For 27 unbearable minutes, Huckabee free associates on the theme of “Vertical America.” Apparently, America is so polarized by left-versus-right we’re not operating in a vertical fashion, whatever the heck that is. This webcast is apparently the kickoff of the Huckabee campaign’s “Vertical Day” where the campaign will be doing a 24 hour webcast — because that’s apparently how long it takes to explain such a nebulous concept.
Oh and about seven minutes in, Mike admits that whoops! they just forgot to change the name of his campaign committee from exploratory to an election committee and they’re doing that today. And by today I mean three days ago, because Huckabee keeps droning on about today’s exciting webcast. Except that it was posted three days ago, and this is still the first video up on Huckabee’s site. I can’t wait for the Huckabee campaign’s next exciting stunt — the pre-taped call in show.
The Ugly: Did I mention that Huckabee is alone in a room talking for 27 minutes with no discernable script? Did I also mention that during the entire time not once does he look directly at the camera? Trying to listen to someone who’s talking directly to you yet looking down and to the left is indescribably irritating for 30 seconds, let alone half an hour.
The Candidate: Sam Brownback
Title: “Sam Brownback: YouTube welcome”
Description: Brownback offers a brief introduction to his candidacy and welcome to his YouTube page.
The Good: At three minutes, the video is substantive enough without being overlong. Brownback used to be a broadcaster and it shows. He’s not speaking from a script but he stays focused. He comes off as surprisingly warm and fuzzy compared to his debate performances — he spoke of bipartisan efforts and name checked Darfur. It was also slightly rewarding that his message was recorded specifically for those coming to his YouTube site. Hey that’s me!
The Bad: Not much really. Brownback is apparently the only candidate who put some thought into the first impression he wanted to make on visitors who actually went directly to his YouTube page for information. After sitting through Huckabee, I’m grateful for the small things.
The Ugly: The entire video was Brownback standing in front of a YouTube logo. Could have been more lively.
The Candidate: Ron Paul
Title: “Ron Paul Supporters Are Everywhere”
Description: A roving camera interviews Ron Paul supporters at the Iowa straw poll.
The Good: Paul has far and away the best music of any campaign video, as his is set to the underrated English rock band The Wonder Stuff’s “Give Give Give Me More More More.” It’s a peppy song anyway, as the title might indicate. Beyond that, Paul’s supporters are very sincere and enthusiastic on camera. And that says good things.
The Bad: Let’s face it — dress them up all you want, but Paul’s supporters do come off as a tad kooky. There’s almost no footage of Paul saying anything significant beyond that he would end the war. They must have left the other five hours of tape — where he explains that the real chairman of the Federal Reserve is Beelzebub — on the cutting room floor. Also, at one point one of his supporters says of the Iowa straw poll, “We’ll come in behind Romney but I think we’ll do very well.” Wow, keep up that kind of optimism up and it’ll become infectious!
The Ugly: The scene at the end where Paul signs the t-shirt of a teenage boy is just cringe inducing in its awkwardness, as is the look on Paul’s face when they hit freeze frame and fade out at the end.
Next Week: Democrats!
— Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.