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New Ad Shows MoveOn Is Not Afraid of Controversy

MoveOn.org, one of the most influential progressive political groups, isn't known for subtlety in its advertising.

A newspaper ad that ran on the eve of Gen. David Petraeus's testimony on Capitol Hill in September 2007 labeled the military man "General Betray Us" and accused him of "cooking the books for the White House." Not surprisingly, the ad drew massive amounts of criticism, from conservatives and liberals alike.

Rather than being cowed by that experience, MoveOn officials were emboldened -- insisting that they were representing the views of their members across the county and would continue to use, at times, provocative advertising to get their point across.

They weren't kidding. A new television ad, which will air in the swing states of Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin and cost the group more than $500,000, seeks to highlight presumptive GOP nominee John McCain's "100 years" pledge regarding the U.S. military commitment to Iraq. It's this week's "Ad Wars" feature.

Let's look at the ad:

Even as she bounces her new baby ("Alex", according to the ad) on her lap, the new "mom" scolds McCain for his position on Iraq.

"So, John McCain, when you said you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex?" she says. "Because if you were, you can't have him."

WHOAH.

Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn, had this to say about the ad campaign: "We've spent five years trying to end this ill-fated war, and this election is a turning point. Our members are deeply concerned about the legacy John McCain's reckless foreign policy would leave."

Using a mother and newborn (an emotional touchstone in our culture if there ever was one) to illustrate what McCain's has said about Iraq is a powerful -- and provocative -- line of attack. MoveOn clearly knows that the ad will be controversial. A press release from the group notes that "preliminary testing" by a Democratic polling firm rates "Not Alex" as "more persuasive than any other ad we've tested before."

At issue is whether the ad's obvious provocativeness eclipses or enhances its fundamental message.

There seems to be little question, judging from scads of polling data, that the American public has grown tired of the war in Iraq and wants American troops to begin leaving. So, MoveOn's ad should land in fertile territory in that regard.

But by making the case against McCain and his past public statements on the war with such emotionally charged images, the ad also could turn off many of those same voters who agree with MoveOn on the substance but disagree with the group on how it practices its politics.

What do you think? Is MoveOn's ad fair play or over the top? Or a little of both? Will it backfire?

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 17, 2008; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  Ad Wars  
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