Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Something's wrong, but I can't put my finger on it

Last Saturday, Mark Evanier of News From Me linked to a YouTube video of a campaign commercial. It features Michael J. Fox's endorsement of Missouri Senatorial candidate Claire McCaskill, a democrat looking to unseat incumbent Jim Talent.

Fox has also done a similar ad (which I haven't seen) for Maryland Senatorial candidate Rep. Benjamin Cardin. Here's an excerpt from Evanier:
My topic here is the nature of this commercial and how I honestly don't know how I feel about it. ... I've watched it three times and each time, something inside me says, "This is not right." But I can't really explain what I object to...
He goes on to list several good reasons to object to it, none of which are apparently enough:
  • "It reminds me a bit of tasteless charity pitches that roll out crippled children and imply that without your nickels, Little Katie will die within the week."
  • "It's so sad to see Michael J. Fox in the condition he's in."
  • "I've become ... distrustful of emotional appeals in political ads..."
It's events like this that convince me that Right and Left will never get along. Things that are so obviously wrong from one perspective generate a puzzled shrug from the other.

Rush Limbaugh further accused Fox of exaggerating or outright faking his Parkinson's symptoms for these spots, which had the effect of drawing the discussion even further off topic. (As heartless as it may seem to point this out, Fox is, after all, an actor.) He later retracted and apologized for this, although he also said:
I have gotten a plethora of e-mails from people saying Michael J. Fox has admitted in interviews that he goes off his medication for Parkinson's disease when he appears before Congress or other groups as a means of illustrating the ravages of the disease.
I e-mailed Evanier to say I had some thoughts he hasn't mentioned.

A very small part of it is automatic suspicion that a Big-Name Hollywood Actor with no (at least no obvious) ties to Missouri should be offering an endorsement in that race. It may be unfortunate that this is my first reaction, but it's no less real. I also realize that Ms McCaskill is not the first candidate to get support from outside her constituency, nor is either party innocent of this.

I think the largest part of my own reaction is this: This is the kind of appeal I expect from someone who knows the facts are not on his side.

If this were a radio ad; If it were a voiceover behind still photographs of the candidate, or Mr Fox, or activities of the Michael J Fox Foundation, or even slides of numbers and statistics (how many people have been helped so far, how many could potentially be helped, how much money are we talking about); If the cameraman had caught Mr Fox on a better day; If the piece were edited in such a way as to minimize his symptoms; Or if this were an appeal for donations to help fund stem cell research, something that is perfectly legal for private companies to do regardless of Senator Talent's vote...

But it is none of these things. Given the wide range of physical imperfections a good filmed or videotaped image can conceal, the fact that they chose to present Mr Fox in this manner wasn't an accident. Someone, someone not themselves a Parkinson's sufferer, looked at this film and made the decision, "Yes, this is what we want our audience to see," in order to influence a Senatorial election.

That's what creeps me out.

This ad is, in its purest form, Not Fighting Fair. I know, imagine that, a political ad not fighting fair. Thank goodness that's never happened before.

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