Politics & Policy

And Now for the Dems

Touring YouTube, 2008.

This is part two of my attempt to see what the presidential candidates are saying on YouTube. Part I, summing up the Republican candidates can be read here.

The Candidate: Christopher Dodd

Title: “Chris Dodd’s White Hare”

Description: A Baffling 30-second TV spot

The Good: Chris Dodd doesn’t take himself too seriously.

The Bad: Chris Dodd doesn’t take himself too seriously. In the ad, a fake TV reporter asks Dodd “What’s with the white hair?” Dodd explains that he’s the same age as Richardson, Biden, and Hillary even though his hair is white. (Along these lines, I can’t wait for Biden’s “What’s with the bad hair plugs?” ad.) Dodd suggests that the white hair comes from hard work and mentions some legislative accomplishments. While this is going on, a white rabbit is sitting without explanation in the foreground. Get it? “White hare”? The ad ends “The Guy With the White Hair for The White House.” Oy.

The Ugly: While distinctive, Dodd’s freakishly white helmet hair is an obstacle for voters, not a selling point.

Candidate: John Edwards

Title: “John Edwards – SEIU: Do You Believe?”

Description: Edward’s recent speech to the Service Employees International Union

The Good: Edwards has been racking up union endorsements, and he is received like a rock star. The crowd is amped, and Edwards looks quite comfortable basking in their adulation. Of all the YouTube videos of candidates I’ve watched so far, this one is the only one that shows the candidate receiving a truly enthusiastic reception from supporter.

The Bad: Again, this speech is 34 minutes long. I doubt casually interested people coming from Edward’s website stumbling across the his YouTube channel are going to hang in that long. It’s also annoying that the video doesn’t begin right away with Edward’s speech – the first two minutes are of him glad handing people in the in the crowd as he makes his way to the stage. Now this is something all politicians do so I’m not really faulting him for that. Edwards may have that Clinton rapport one on one, but observing him impartially as he hugs supporters – he looks awfully plastic.

The Ugly: Maybe this is my problem, but I couldn’t get the video to play past the 4:55 mark. Again, these technical glitches underscore that using flash video is still a nascent technology relative to TV and could be frustrating for voters to use.

The Candidate: Hillary Clinton

Title: “New Ad: Hillary’s Health Care Plan”

Description: A 30 second TV spot

The Good: Some casting director worked overtime to find a plethora of pleasingly attractive young people and children to appear with Hillary.

The Bad: The voiceover on the ad begins, “She changed our way of thinking when she introduced universal healthcare to America…” Aside from this statement being awfully arrogant and presumptive, you’ve got to be kidding me. She’s going to run on her previous foray into healthcare? Hillarycare went over like Pat Boone at the Apollo – it was an unmitigated policy disaster, and an initiative she never should have been allowed to head up. At the time, she had never been elected to public office and had no healthcare experience. Her only qualification was being married to the President and her disastrous policy failure gave voters who found her personality off-putting uppity a substantive reason to dislike her.

The Ugly: The music is syrupy and entire tone of the ad is mawkish. She might as well scream, “Won’t somebody think of the Children! Please!” At one point she’s actually holding a baby and smiling… Also, I know they need to soften her image, but she’s wearing very bright and/or pastel colors every shot. It just doesn’t make her look like executive material.

The Candidate: Barack Obama

Title: “5th Anniversary of Barack Obama’s Anti-War Speech”

Description: A montage of Obama supporters outline Obama’s reservations about the current Iraq policy.

The Good: In the video, Obama makes it clear that if he’s going to celebrate the fact that he’s an anti-war candidate, he’s also wants everyone to know he’s no wimpy pacifist.

The Bad: You know that thing where they intersplice a whole bunch of different people staring into the camera reading a few words that flow into the next person so that it appears that a whole bunch of ethnically diverse people are in fact reading from the same coherent script? Yeah, well it was @#$?! annoying when I first saw it on the opening credits of “The Real World” twenty years ago. It’s clichéd AND annoying now.

The Ugly: The video tries to show a bunch of people in different settings so as to demonstrate that Obama has diverse support. It’s clearly only been shot in two locations – in downtown Chicago and on somebody’s farm further out in Illinois.

The Candidate: Joe Biden

Title: “The First Ray of Hope”

Description: Biden talks about his Iraq policy on Hardball

The Good: Biden is one of the few prominent Democrats that seems unusually well-informed on Iraq. When he speaks about the need for a realistic political solution (in his view, that involves dividing Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite territories), and a tangible exit strategy, he comes across as sincere rather than politically interested, even though he gets his digs in about Bush along the way. He also speaks of reaching across the aisle to hammer out compromise on Iraq, which is nice to hear.

The Bad: For all his vocal interest in Iraq, I still know nothing about Biden’s domestic vision.

The Ugly: The interview was taken in front of a very noisy crowd milling about in front of the Democratic debate. There’s a lot of white noise in the background that made it hard to hear at times with YouTube’s lackluster audio quality.

The Candidate: Bill Richardson

Title: “The Choice on Iraq”

Description: Bill Richardson Iraq policy condensed into a few minutes

The Good: Great production values.

The Bad: The entire message of the video is one point hammered home for four and half minutes – that is that Bill Richardson is the only candidate who will pull all of the troops out of Iraq immediately. Will this cause Iraq to descend into chaos and genocide? Who knows? Who cares? Supposedly, withdrawal is “the only way the Iraqi religious groups will begin to reconcile.” And by reconcile, I assume he means “start killing each other until somebody comes out on top.” Then at the end of the video he drags out a number of netroots bloggers to endorse him and his plan – which makes me wonder how narrow an audience he’s courting here. Clearly, he’s trying his best to run to the left of all the major candidates and I don’t think it’s working.

The Ugly: It’s a classic negative campaign ad move, but are all the stark black and white photos of his Democratic rivals necessary?

The Candidate: Dennis Kucinich

Title: “Dennis Kucinich on Leno 9-24-07”

Description: Kucinch’s talks about his new book on The Tonight Show

The Good: Kucinich spends the interview talking about growing up very poor in a large Catholic family, but unlike other candidates (cough John Edwards cough) he doesn’t seem to be exploiting his hardship to prove his moral superiority. He may be a crazy liberal, but he’s at least sincere about it. Also, it’s surprisingly endearing when they show his high school football photo – Kucinch was 4’9” and third string varsity.

The Bad: Man, Kucinch is an awkward fellow. Being in a loose format like The Tonight Show does not play to his strengths.

The Ugly: The other guest on the show was The Rock – somebody should get the two of them together to remake Twins.

The Candidate: Mike Gravel

Title: “Is It Worth it? Where is your money going?”

Description: Gravel chastises a caller on a radio show for not giving him money.

The Good: It’s refreshing to hear a candidate so openly acknowledge his need for money.

The Bad: The first words Gravel utters in the video are “Please give me some money.” He equates money with advancing his views and then says nothing about what those views are.

The Ugly: Gravel looks old – but unlike McCain and Thompson who merely look old, Gravel also sounds kind of doddering, to the point that I actually looked up his age. He’s 77. After reviewing all of these videos, one thing has become painfully evident. If you’re looking to YouTube to get a short overview of the candidates – don’t. That said, what distinguishes the better videos is that they were aimed at as a broad an audience as possible. One of the pitfalls of YouTube and other ways of using the internet to network with your constituency is that often candidates end up appeasing a core group of supporters while ignoring those voters who are using the internet to casually glean information. Having more channels available to communicate with potential voters only seems to underscore the need for a clear message and consistent image. It’s a very fine line between exploiting new technology to reach voters and merely adding to the din.

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