Varnish Remover

A Telegram From the Oval Office

Nobody, produced by Bob Squier of Squier, Knapp & Ochs for the Clinton campaign.

Title demonstrates how far the Clinton/Gore campaign has come: In the wake of the 1994 election, who could have imagined a 1996 Clinton commercial in which a tracking shot of the empty Oval Office is paired with a narrator asking who really belongs there? The answer, in 1994, would have been Anyone But Clinton.

A negative spot that touches on many issues, Title casts the attack in a seemingly high-minded context by imagining Dole behind the mahogany of the president’s desk. To make certain that the viewer catches the negative ad’s drift, double-exposed over the scene is a shot of a pallid, black-and-white Dole and a grimacing Gingrich.

And once again, the Dole tax cut is attacked without being called a tax cut. (Tax cuts are too popular to attack.) Instead, Dole’s 15 percent tax cut is a “risky $550 billion plan.” This description makes Dole’s proposal sound more like an old Democrats’ big-spending program than a tax cut.

Recycling phrases and images from earlier ads, the spot moves at light speed from campaign issue to campaign issue: deficits, education, and drug cuts, abortion, interest rates, and harm to the economy. Meanwhile, double-exposed images of kids, a woman, and the signs (literally) of a failing economy fill the screen, all punctuated by the grim visage of Bob Dole. (Some critics wonder if Clinton’s spots pack in too many poll-driven buzz words for viewers to absorb.)

Title asks, Where do you stand? Do you want Bob Dole in the Oval Office? This is the post-Cold War equivalent of asking whose finger you want on the nuclear button. With a swift pivot, the spot supplies its own answer as a smiling Bill Clinton is captured striding down a White House passageway toward the Oval Office, where he presumably belongs. Title– surely Dick Morris’ last contribution to the campaign–presents Clinton as both a budget balancer and as a tax cutter. As in an earlier Clinton spot, tax cuts are associated with the president and never with Dole.

The spot ends with a dash of triangulation: Clinton must defeat Dole to keep the Gingrich Congress at bay, a bit of demonization that may help congressional Democrats. The tracking shot of the empty Oval Office is reprised, and the spot states that voters must decide whether it will be occupied by the presidential Clinton or the throwback Dole.

Make sure to read the credits, which research shows viewers rarely do. This is the last ad of “The Clinton/Gore Primary Campaign.” Dole ran out of primary money months ago and now, as the general election begins, both candidates are on equal financial footing. Stay tuned to see what they’re trying to do to your heads.

–Robert Shrum