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Massa's New Ad: Not Stupid

The headline may seem like faint praise (like "Immanuel Kant:  Not Dumb" or "Kim Novak:  Not Ugly"), but I think it's about the highest compliment I can pay an ad in the current environment.

When Randy Kuhl came out with an ad claiming that "Eric Massa has a raise taxes", he assumed that everyone listening was stupid.  Because who, other than someone who's quite dim, would think that a politician would create a plan to raise taxes?   Kuhl might as well have claimed that "Eric Massa has a turn puppies into hamburger."   No sane politician has a plan to raise taxes or slaughter puppies, and any viewer of even minimal intelligence knows it.

Kuhl didn't even bother to use the common "Eric Massa says he won't raise taxes, but..." formulation. That phrasing would have at least assumed that the viewer has an IQ above room temperature, but is easily fooled by the machinations of a clever politician. 

Like most negative commericals, Kuhl's was produced with the hope of a two-fer.  Not only did he try to tar Massa with a ridiculous claim, he hoped to goad Massa into a negative response. "Randy Kuhl says that I'll raise taxes, but Kuhl's deficit has raised taxes on our children, etc."

Here's where Massa was smart.  When your opponent says something hysterical, you can either rise to the same level of hysteria, or you can make a calm, positive assertion that illustrates the stupidity of your opponent's claim.  Massa said, "My family is overtaxed and underserved, just like yours."  Translation:  I know, and you know, that taxes are too high.  Raising them would be stupid.  Neither of us are that dumb.

Massa's ad opens with  "[I] chose to raise my family in upstate New York, just like you." That's a calm, positive rebuttal of the "carpetbagger" accusation that's been floating around.  Massa could have chosen to explain why Navy Vets can't call anyplace home, but his one positive sentence is far more powerful, and probably more widely appreciated, than a recitation of his service record.

I also think that the use of Amo Houghton's first-person endorsement by the Kuhl campaign is not stupid, but it's not as clever as Massa's latest ad. We learn that Amo likes Randy, and Randy knows the area.  These are Randy's known strengths.  It would have been better to use Amo's time to say something positive about one of Randy's perceived weaknesses.

Massa's New Ad

Eric Massa's new TV ad begins with the statement that he

chose to raise my family in upstate New York, just like you.  My family is overtaxed and underserved by government, just like yours.  It's wrong that professional politicians mismanaged the war, and now our troops are paying the price.

The "professional politicians" line is delivered over a shot of Kuhl and Bush juxtaposed with pictures of Cheney and Rumsfeld.  The ad quickly switches to shots of vets and their families:

I believe that we, as a grateful nation, should ensure that our troops, veterans and their families should have what they need. It's time we should do more than just wish for a better life, we should vote for one.

It's interesting (and refreshing) that both candidates have returned to positive ads after fielding negative ones.  No YouTube yet - I'll post it when it's available.  Video after the break:

Endorsement Time

Randy Kuhl has posted a new ad featuring Amo Hougton's endorsement.  Houghton is Kuhl's widely respected predecessor in the 29th.

Eric Massa's web site features his new endorsement from the Messenger-Post Newspapers.  This chain publishes a Canandaigua daily and suburban weeklies in Monroe County.

Kuhl's Mailer

The Rural Patriot has posted a thorough analysis of a Kuhl mailer.  The theme, like his recent ad campaign, is taxes.  The tagline is "Eric Massa must think money grows on trees."  Along with Massa's recent hide-and-seek ad, which featured kids hiding behind trees, the negative campaigning in the 29th has taken on a distinctly arborial flavor.

The Patriot has also unearthed Massa's MyDD post upon which the whole Kuhl "he'll raise taxes" claim is based.  It looks like the claim is based on Massa's desire to repeal the tax cuts for the top 1%, though I don't know how Kuhl gets an average of $2,000 per person in additional taxes for the 29th, a district where the average per-capita income is $21,255.

What's a "Negative Ad"?

Both candidates in the 29th are on record in opposition to negative advertising.  At Tuesday's debate, Randy Kuhl said "I've never run a negative campaign and never will."  Massa's made the same pledge, and has characterized Kuhl's response to the ads which ran in August as a "negative ad".

Massa's new ad campaign paints an unpleasant picture of Rep Kuhl.  The television ad is pretty mild, and the radio ad is quite harsh, though the harsh words are all coming from a respected third party, not Massa.  So are these "negative" ads?  Massa thinks not: during his appearance on WITR last night, he said that listeners need to distinguish between negative attack ads and comparative (or compare and contrast) advertising.

I see some truth in Massa's distinction.  Both candidates have a right to criticize the other, and calling all criticism "negative" simply because it's a statement against something is an assault on reason.  There's nothing wrong with an honest critique of the other guy's position.

That said, when people complain about negative ads, they're not referring to the few honest critiques that air each election cycle.  Their gripe is against the stereotypical and stupid ads that clog the airwaves.   If you've ever watched a Daily Show spoof of one of these ads, you've seen all the components:  the grainy black-and-white pictures, the deep-voiced narrator, and the overheated rhetoric. 

What voters hate about negative ads that they treat us like morons.  When they use some clever ploy (e.g., Massa's hide-and-seek kids) or feature obnoxious graphics and a sneering narrator (e.g., Kuhl's latest ad), they tell us that we're too fucking dumb or distracted to pay attention without some kind of visual aid.  Never mind that it's probably true -- even numbskulls hate being treated like morons.

I don't think Eric Massa or Randy Kuhl really understand the antipathy of the general population towards ads that contain even a whiff of the "negative ad" formula.  These guys, and the media geniuses who advise them, also don't get how a few simple ads would be a breath of fresh air.

I think Massa would have been better off by just standing in front of a camera talking about some issue -- health care, the war, free trade -- for 30 seconds.   Massa's got a lot of passion, and his campaign is a true grassroots event.  A down-to-earth ad with low production values would get that message across:  "I'm not a politician, but here's what I believe."  He could also say something like "Most of my contributors are individuals, so I'm trying to save a few bucks with this ad." 

Kuhl could also make a great positive ad by talking about how he's visited every town in the district once a year:  it's an impressive feat, no matter what you think of his politics.   He could follow it up with a discussion on how those visits changed his mind about Social Security privatization: "I listened to you."

Of course, this advice is probably considered stupid by professional media advisors.  No matter -  the first candidate who starts making simple, straightforward ads with their personal video camera will have an impact that those paid advisors can't imagine.   

Massa's New Ads

Eric Massa has new television and radio spots out.  The TV ad features kids playing hide-and-seek, and says that it's time for Kuhl to stop hiding behind negative ads.  Over the video of kids playing,  Kuhl's votes against homeland security and increasing funding for vets, and a vote against funding Walter Reed Hospital, are listed.

The radio ad features quotes from Maj Gen (ret) John Batiste, "I tell you...Randy Kuhl -- this guy needs to go.  He's not informed, he doesn't have moral courage. That's not the kind of leadership we need in Washington right now." 

Video and audio links below:

Here's the mp3 of the radio ad. 

Truth Squad on the Kuhl Ad

The Rural Patriot's latest post links to WETM's "truth squad" investigation of Kuhl's latest ad.   Their political consultant, Stephen Coleman, pointed out that Kuhl's claims are based on Massa's stated desire for tax reform.  According to Coleman, "That interpretation is from the political twilight zone."

Also, since I've been critical of the media lately, I have to acknowledge that the "truth squad" pieces aired in the 29th have been pretty good.

Video of Kuhl's New Ad

Thanks to MaryR, here's a link to a video of Kuhl's Ad on the New York Times site.   It contains the same basic charges that I reviewed earlier, along with a little extra rhetorical frosting.  In Kuhl's "I support this ad" tagline, he says that he voted to cut taxes.  As I noted earlier, when we're running big deficits, tax cuts alone don't impress even solid conservatives like Bob Lonsberry.

(The Times makes it hard to link to video.  If that link doesn't work, go here and search for Kuhl.)

Kuhl's Ad

I heard Randy Kuhl's latest ad on the radio today. Using the term "Liberal Eric Massa", it charged that Massa wants to raise estate taxes, income taxes, and also create a sales tax on Internet purchases. The ad also charged that Massa's tax plan would result in an average tax burden increase of $2000 per person in the 29th.

Massa has published his tax position here. Like every other politician on earth, there are no plans there to raise taxes, only to redistribute the tax burden. In Massa's case, he wants to move it off of the middle class. I'm sure that Kuhl can back up the arithmetic in his ad, so he must have chosen some group on the fringe of middle class, declared that group average, and calculated the tax change as $2K. That's a standard operating procedure for ads like this.

I heard this ad on the Bob Lonsberry show, while driving to the debate in Canandaigua. On my return trip, I heard Bob say that when a politician promises a tax cut, the first thing we should ask is where the money's coming from to finance the cut. Good question, Bob.

At today's debate, Randy Kuhl said he wanted to balance the budget immediately. He also supports the war in Iraq. There aren't enough tax revenues to do both. So, on the logic of his ad, he, too, wants to raise taxes. Also, as the Massa campaign points out, Kuhl has a track record of 24 years in the New York legislature, many of those years in leadership positions. New York's tax burden is among the nation's highest. There's no evidence that Kuhl's ever worked to lower taxes.

I think there's a core group of voters who hate taxes so much that they will respond to this type of ad. But most voters have heard ads like this so often that they're skeptical. For those folks, ads like these are so much noise. Even Lonsberry, who's quite conservative, has a hard time buying generic political claims on taxes. These voters want to see some action to lower taxes before they buy into election-year tax scares.

Kuhl Negative Ads and Push Polls?

The Massa campaign is saying that a new Kuhl ad is out, and that Kuhl is push-polling.  The ad apparently says that Massa wants to raise taxes.  I haven't seen it, but  I'll post a link and analysis as soon as Kuhl posts it on his site, or someone puts it on YouTube.

A Penfield resident (and Massa supporter) is the source for information about the poll, which claimed that Massa would oppose raising defense spending and sending the National Guard to protect the borders.   The Kuhl campaign denies the push-polling.

(Sorry for the confusion and update - the original story wasn't clear.)

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