Varnish Remover

The Dope on Dole

The Clinton campaign answers the Dole ads that lambasted the president as soft on drugs with Dole’s Real Record, which efficiently portrays the Republican as a ghoulish, sloganeering, anti-kid politician.

Juxtaposed with the opening shot of a teen-ager sitting on a curb is Dole, in grainy and smeared video footage that obviously has been blown up. The colors are off, giving him a sickly look, and the narration all but mocks his delivery of his neo-Nike anti-drug slogan: “Just Don’t Do It.”

Next, we see a staple of this year’s drug ads–kids gathered in a school hallway. They’re smiling, but for how long? Dole’s anti-drug slogan aside, the narrator informs us, he voted “to cut the president’s school anti-drug efforts.” With that, the grim Dole returns in black and white, and we’re told that he voted against the creation of a drug czar.

Suddenly the spot pivots–with no visual, verbal, or musical cue–from the subject of drugs to other youth-related issues. The classic structure of response spots is to answer an attack briefly and then shift the debate to stronger ground. Dole’s Real Record does this with such ease that we hardly notice the transition. The narrator tells us that Dole voted against student loans, against Clinton’s plan to limit tobacco ads aimed at kids, and against the vaccines-for-children program. “That’s the real Bob Dole record, … one slogans can’t hide,” says the narrator. Not only does this layer of varnish paint Dole as anti-education and anti-middle class, but the visuals give him the politically unprized patina of old age.

Illustrating the charge that Dole and Gingrich voted against vaccines is a soulful child with big, staring eyes–an image right out of a Walter Keene painting. Her gaze reproaches Dole not only for this vote, but for all we have seen and heard in the spot.

When we return to a scolding, finger-pointing Dole growling, “Just Don’t Do It,” the slogan carries a new meaning–that he just shouldn’t have voted against the “pro-kid” legislation and that we just shouldn’t vote for him. And if not for Dole, then for whom? The spot closes with a cameo of Clinton that qualifies it for the political ad rate on TV stations. The president–as always, in color–is shown with one of the children he allegedly is protecting from Dole’s policies.

Dole’s Real Record successfully broadens the issues beyond drugs and asks, “Which candidate is more caring?” As the spot unspools, its strategy becomes clear: When you make a response ad, don’t do just drugs.