For many states, the so-called "Great Recession" has hit hard. For some, such as Ohio, a state ranking third in manufacturing behind only California and Texas, the blows have landed even harder. From January 2002 to January 2012, unemployment has risen by 4.4% to 10.9% as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even as the rate has decreased in recent years, many people in Ohio blame the loss of jobs, predominately in the manufacturing industry, on the shipping of jobs overseas to China and other low-wage regions. Many people who may well be casting the deciding votes in a state as closely contested as Ohio. As such, both the right and the left have launched a veritable deluge of ads (like those above) intended to sway those in the middle. Indeed, between the two candidates, almost thirty thousand commercials were aired this past month pertaining solely to China. If this election is to be decided by a single state, neither candidate is going to have to say he didn't give his all in Ohio.
Yet, should this occurrence even be worrisome? Common logic would only dictate that states where the vote is expected to be close will receive the most attention from the candidates. As well, an issue such as China is one that is important to Ohio on a local level, but also to the entire US and the well-being of the economy. Given such important reasons, then maybe we should instead ask is if anyone should care about the nature of these ads?
The reason lies within the ads themselves. Skip the first five seconds of the first ad or the last five seconds of the second ad and then ask this question, "Who does this ad support?" Without just that small portion of the ad, it is impossible to identify anything about the ad, other than the fact that the target of the ad is clearly incapable of leading the country. This is because the purpose of the ads is not to define the candidate who supports the ads, but rather "to portray people and events in such vivid, forceful language that the auditor is forced to respond" (Raum & Measell). Much of what Raum & Measell describe of this appears in both ads. China serves as one half of the god-devil interplay, with the opposing candidate portrayed as walking hand-in-hand alongside. At the same time, any policy is reduced to an absurd degree: it was not that Obama failed to enact tariffs but that he instead allowed China to walk over him repeatedly. Such simplification reduces complicated matters of foreign policy to simple tasks that will only require the correct president to make happen, hence the god half of the analogy. But to what end? In the words of Jim Jordan, "[Obama] wanted to define Romney before he could define himself, and by every indication [he's] doing a very effective job of that."
Enter the ideas of Manjoo & Farhad. In their book Reality is Splitting & The New Tribalism, they described the John Kerry campaign, where the Swift Boat Veterans successfully convinced the public of an alternate reality. Despite the fact that Kerry did indeed serve and with distinction in Vietnam, they were able to paint him as a traitor and a man unfit for command. Here again in this election, some of the same breaking of reality can be seen in these China commercials. Did Romney support the move by Bain to ship jobs overseas? What were the seven times that Obama failed to say no to China? Neither of these questions are answered, nor are they even relevant to the purpose of the commercials. These commercials aim not to inform, but rather to persuade the viewer and to convince them of their reality. And, of course, to throw a sheet over the fact that the global economy is not going to being affected by the wishes and desires of one man, even if he is the president of these United States.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter: why these commercials really are a bad thing. The first thing to point out is that it's part of a long trend, and one that doesn't seem likely to stop any time soon. In reference to the negative ads run by Obama in 2008, Ricky Rubio stated, "I think that's been part of every campaign ... I don't think that will change in 2012. Unfortunately people have to get used to it." Take these ads about China, for example, none profess any sort of solution or idea of working it out with China, they only bring about condemnation and uncompromising determination. This leads to the second point, one which ties into Raum & Measell, that the middle ground is becoming more and more untenable. Given these two ads about China, where does a reasonable middle exist? If Obama is reelected, then China will be allowed to walk all over the US, while a Romney election would meaning the shipping of more jobs overseas. There is little room for compromise between those two rocks.
Lastly is the idea of personality and ideology vs. practicality. Here's a quick question, what is the difference between Obama and Romney's foreign policy? Besides answers that involve broad strokes of description about the world, most people couldn't give you more than a few uhh's or a derisive scoff followed by a denouncement of the opposing candidate. Thus, much of this election is not riding upon what the candidates actually intend to do or what their policies will be, but on their ideology-based plan and the fact that they bleed red or blue. More and more it seems, presidents are not being elected based on the fact that they have experience in such matters as foreign policy, but whether they look good, have a good smile, and can say what the public wants. Case in point, in the Debates between Bush and Kerry, much was done to disguise the fact that Bush is a bit shorter, as the public usually votes for the taller candidate. In this way, style seems to have become more important than substance for American presidents. So, the next time you watch one of these commercials or any political commercial this election, take time to stop and think about it, because you might just find it a bit more interesting than you thought.
And to conclude, as seems only fitting, here is a Chinese take on America.