Up until recently, Bush had been driving Kerry into the rocks with a replay of his father’s 1988 decimation of Mike Dukakis. Although not very imaginative, the feminization of Kerry, the swift characterization of him as the fool in a tank boat, and the association of his candidacy with impending doom looked like vintage Dad.
Now however, because Kerry has been more aggressive, and seems to have marginalized the Swift Boat attacks by questioning Bush’s war management, the best remaining angle from the ’88 playbook is the fear strategy. Fortunately (for Bush, not the country), he has the kind of options that his father never dreamed of. Back then, they had to use some real imagination to come up with a nobody like Willy Horton.
The downside, however, is that Bush/Rove have pushed the scare tactic so hard, long and far, they’re hitting the outer edge of credulity. Now desperate for impact, they are starting to do ridiculous things, such as dragging in specific figures, such as Mohammed Atta — and even Osama bin Laden. (See, they really hadn’t forgotten about him.)
If Willy Horton is the spiritual model for the Bush campaign, where might Kerry be drawing inspiration? After about a week bashing Bush over Iraq (Is the guy really a great closer, or is it mainly the Clinton mojo?), you could say JK’s playing the Clara Peller card.
If you look back to 1968, Walter Mondale chewed up and spit out the charismatic Gary Hart by virtue of ripping off a hamburger ad. In the classic Wendy’s commercial that year, Clara’s friend takes receipt of her burger at the counter of a competing fast food chain and slowly lifts up the bun, setting Clara up to deliver the line that not only took over popular culture for a stretch, but did maximum political damage as well.
If Kerry can raise enough doubts about Bush by hammering away on Iraq, he might not be that far away from replicating the Mondale move. If it should comes to that, the next question for Bush is: “Where’s the beef?”
The ad’s still a classic. Here’s the link:
Wendy’s ad at iFilm (It’s the 5th one down on the list, and you have to view a short movie trailer first).
Also, you can view the Willie Horton ad here: