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Welfare Too

Barack Obama has an ad out touting welfare reform. The problem? He opposed welfare reform most of his career. ABC lays it out here. ABC isn’t alone. Marc Ambinder said of the ad:

Notice how the careful omission of a pronoun makes it sound like Obama himself “slashed” welfare — a nice and defensible trick of the trade. Actually, the word “passed” here is a bit out of context. As other news organizations have noted, Obama co-sponsored the bill, which brought Illinois into compliance with the ’96 federal law; legislators don’t pass anything. And it passed overwhelmingly — Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois Senate supported it; there was only one no vote And Obama glosses over his opposition to the ’96 federal welfare reform law.

Howard Kurtz writes:

The commercial, like an earlier biographical ad, is designed to neutralize perceptions of Obama as an Ivy League elitist by playing up his background as a Chicago community organizer. Obama did, however, work as a New York financial consultant before that, and by his own admission had little success helping Chicago neighborhoods cope with plant closings. While Obama sponsored or co-sponsored measures involving welfare, health care and tax cuts in the Illinois legislature, to say he “passed” the laws, as if he were in a leadership post, overstates his role.

But an ad that says “I was one of a crowd of people who voted for an implementation bill in Illinois after opposing welfare reform” wouldn’t really work, would it? It would be accurate. But it wouldn’t work. And that’s the rub when you have a candidate who never held an executive position and never led any national legislative effort. So if you have fistfuls of money, you make stuff up and hope you don’t get caught. And even if you do, more people end up hearing the deceptive ad than the criticisms of it. There was a fellow from Massachusetts who did that in the Republican primary. He got a reputation for hitting below the belt and for lack of candor. The Obama team might keep that in mind.

I would add that it is always better to have money than not to in politics, and it is crucial to get out the vote and organizational efforts. But I wonder if political advertising is what it used to be. We’re all awash in ads and the public has grown increasingly skeptical and cynical. Unless the ad is a doozy (I’m thinking of the “3 a.m.” ad by Hillary Clinton or the Apple computer ad aimed at her early in the primary), I suspect the average ad has less impact than it used to (and that’s even apart from the TIVO effect.) The temptation is great, I imagine, to push the envelope, but the last thing at this point which Obama needs (both because voters read it and because the media is getting more fed up with him by the minute) is more comments by MSM reporters like this:

Obama’s transformation from opponent to champion of welfare reform is the latest in a series of moves to the center. Since capturing the Democratic nomination, Obama has altered his stances on Social Security taxes, meeting with rogue leaders without preconditions, and the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.’s, sweeping gun ban. . . Now, with the Democratic nomination firmly in hand, Obama is going one step further. In an ad airing in 18 states, including 14 carried by President Bush in 2004, Obama is celebrating a reduction in the welfare caseload made possible by legislation he originally opposed. . . By glossing over his early opposition to welfare reform, Obama is stepping closer to the political mainstream. But by undergoing this transformation only once it became politically convenient, Obama’s critics will charge that he puts calculation ahead of conviction.


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