Gaffesploitation: A How-Not-To

Clinton’s new Pennsylvania ad might be the most hilariously bad political spot since Ron Paul’s epic New Hampshire farce . But whereas Paul’s ad came off as charmingly cheesy, Clinton’s feels painfully forced. To call it cardboard would be an insult to the box.

Let’s start with the text. The ad quotes Obama’s remarks that some people “cling to guns or religion … as a way to explain their frustrations.” That’s the exact excerpt. They leave out the part about immigration and xenophobia, which is arguably more offensive than the “guns and religion” part. We then hear from a few good citizens of Pennsylvania who are just outraged at Obama’s remarks. One woman says she was “very insulted” by Obama’s comments. Another intones, as flatly as possible, “I’m not clinging to my faith out of frustration and bitterness—I find that my faith is very uplifting.” Then, the best part: “The good people of Pennsylvania deserve a lot better than what Barack Obama said.” “Good people of Pennsylvania”? Who talks like that? It’s like a parody of a bad attack ad.

The ad represents everything that’s wrong with Clinton’s response to the “bitter” flap. For one thing, it violates the cardinal rule of gaffesploitation: Let other people pour the gasoline for you. That’s what surrogates are for. If the gaffe is bad enough, the offending candidate will hang himself with his own words. But to take this to the airwaves—and so clumsily, too—has the whiff of desperation. Secondly, Clinton is overplaying her hand. Obama’s comments were offensive to many, but they contained an undeniable kernel of truth—that people are bitter about economic conditions. Meanwhile, Clinton’s response fairly reeks of cynicism even to the untrained nose. Whatever you think of Obama’s condescending wording, Clinton’s manufactured outrage and the stilted delivery thereof should break the needle on anyone’s BS-meter.

It’s too early to say for sure, but early indicators suggest this line of attack is going nowhere. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania unmoving. A national Gallup survey gives Obama his biggest lead ever , 50 percent to 41 percent. (Some robo-polls show him up from before; some down.) It’s hard to reconcile those numbers with what Clinton portrays as a national outcry over Obama’s comments. Maybe that’s why she felt the need to run this ad—because the tracking polls weren’t moving.

The timing is unfortunate, too—Clinton’s post-Penn ads were just starting to get good .