Tancredo's Scare Tactics
It is a terrifying image stalking the subconscious of many Americans in the post-9/11 world. And thanks to Colorado congressman, Republican presidential candidate and anti-immigration crusader Tom Tancredo, it is now appearing on television sets across Iowa, with promises to expand to other states soon: a man in a hooded sweatshirt walks into a shopping mall, sets a heavy backpack besides a bench, and walks away before the backpack explodes.
Accompanying the ominous shopping mall scene (which is interspersed with images from terrorist bombings in Europe) is an opener from Tancredo himself, saying that "I approve message because someone needs to say it," and then this voiceover, in an ominous-sounding baritone: "There are consequences to open borders beyond the 20 million aliens who have come to take our jobs. Islamic terrorists now freely roam U.S. soil, Jihadists who froth with hate here to do as they have in London, Spain, Russia. The price we pay for spineless politicians who refuse to defend our borders against those who come to kill."
That is followed by the sound of a loud explosion, and then these closing words on the screen: "Tancredo -- before it's too late."
That Tancredo is running in asterisk territory in presidential polls and being all but ignored as a single-issue candidate does not diminish the undeniable initial shock of the ad. Just as his campaign hoped, the ad has generated a flutter of attention for his flagging campaign and the issue it was built around, with Tancredo's allies in the immigration battle hailing him for his candor and others scorning the ad as cheap and blatant fear mongering. (The campaigns of three of Tancredo's chief GOP rivals for the nomination -- Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain -- all declined to comment on the ad.)
Lingering in the air after the imagined bomb detonates is this question: is there a line to be crossed when it comes to campaign ads that prey on national security fears -- and if so, where does that line fall? Bowdoin College political scientist Michael Franz, who studies campaign ads, said there is a select but notorious lineage behind Tancredo's ad.
With its imagined explosion, the ad most obviously invokes the infamous "Daisy" ad run by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to stoke fears that electing his opponent, Barry Goldwater, could lead to nuclear war. More recently, there was President Bush's "wolves" ad in 2004, which criticized John Kerry for voting against intelligence funding with an image of a pack of wolves approaching the viewer and the line, "Weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm." This in turn recalled President Reagan's more opaque "Bear" ad in 1984, which showed a bear bear on the prowl with this voiceover: "There is a bear in the woods. For some people the bear is easy to see. Others don't see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame.
Others say it's vicious. And dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who is right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear."
Bush faced only limited criticism for the "wolves" ad, but Franz predicted that Tancredo would face a considerable backlash for the shopping mall ad, partly because his low standing in the polls will make the ad seem all the more opportunistic. "Fear mongering can turn people off to the candidate who sponsored the ad if it seems to go too far. And the lower down the ticket you go, the more likely these fear attacks can create backlash," Franz said. "A second tier candidate can face that backlash if voters don't know that much about him, and then associate this with him. It may turn people against him."
Then again, Tancredo -- who recently announced he will not run for reelection next year -- may not actually be seeking to win the hearts and minds of Iowa caucus-goers with the ad. Tancredo campaign spokesman Alan Moore said today that the campaign has been thrilled with the national attention that the ad has gotten, even as he conceded that it had met with "mixed reviews."
"It's been pretty unbelievable. We're getting a great response," Moore said. "People are talking about it and that's what we wanted to to, we wanted to start a dialogue ..... and say this is a real threat to national security. In the end, people are going to recognize [illegal immigration] as a threat to national security. I think we're going to accomplish what we set out to do."
As for the implications for Tancredo's campaign, Moore said, "The congressman puts it real well. He says that he's never run for an office to get the office. He is running to promote his beliefs and the best way to do that is through an election."
Finally, there is the matter whether the threat described in the ad is a realistic one. It is America's great good fortune that its enemies to date have for whatever reason not targeted shopping malls or other "soft" targets. And plenty of security experts note that if Al Qaeda or anyone else decided to go that route, it would not necessarily have to rely on illegal immigrants to get the job done -- 9/11 proved that the organization had sympathizers legally residing in the U.S. Travis Ridout, a political scientist at Washington State University, notes that recent terrorist incidents in England involved immigrants from Pakistan and elsewhere legally residing in the U.K. "In terms of its accuracy, [the ad] ignores other possibilities," Ridout said.
Moore, the campaign spokesman, dismissed that criticism. "I don't know how much we can control [attacks by legal residents]. What we can control is who the people are coming into the country legally and making sure people aren't getting in illegally," he said.
Posted by: JustAnotherIdiot | November 14, 2007 5:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | November 14, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: AndiMedi | November 14, 2007 12:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: yog2541 | November 14, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: thegribbler1 | November 14, 2007 9:29 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Patriot1 | November 14, 2007 9:11 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: yog2541 | November 14, 2007 8:52 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Patriot1 | November 14, 2007 8:39 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jsdepot | November 13, 2007 11:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rat-the | November 13, 2007 8:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: camera_eye_1 | November 13, 2007 8:11 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.