Sunday, November 27, 2011

$3 Billion in Mud

It's already oozing out of the television. The National Federation of Independent Business has been running an ad that starts as a hit piece on Obama, urges you to call Fred Upton and tell him to keep fighting for "jobs" or some such thing, implying all the while that they are on your side, you average Joe you, when of course in reality they aren't. It's a tested formula, and it works.

Who are these people? Turns out the NFIB is targeting five congressional districts in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in total with the same ad. And when you go to their press release page, it reads like they are taking their cues directly from the Standard Republican Playbook, Fall-Winter 2011 version. Using words like "uncertainty" and "job-crushing", they tout current favorites like the balanced budget amendment and offer the usual attack on health care reform. And don't forget the interview from The Hill with former Senator Blanche Lincoln proclaiming, "Democrat Criticizes Obama for ‘4,200’ Pages of Pending Regulations". See? Democrats don't like Obama either, so it must be true. The Republican propaganda in evidence is "thinly veiled" with so much Saran wrap.

The NFIB blitz follows a previous ad from long-time heavy rotation favorites the American Petroleum Institute that uses the same formula: Big, scary claim about lost "jobs" to lead off, and then you should get down on your knees and thank Upton for being such a swell guy and protecting Big Oil. Another is the ever-present Koch's Americans For Prosperity that has been on the air with an attack on Obama over the Solyndra issue, claiming payoffs and other nefarious deeds. And so on.

Drip, drip, drip.

Too soon? Maybe. But it sets a foundation for what is to come...

In the past six months, conservative groups like those affiliated with Karl Rove and the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, and, increasingly, Republican candidates themselves, have spent more than $13 million on advertisements carrying a negative message about Mr. Obama, according to an analysis by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising.

And it is only going to grow more intense.

“These dollar figures we’re talking about now are going to seem quaint in a few months,” said Kenneth M. Goldstein, president of the analysis group. “And they’ll seem really quaint in eight or nine months.”

Total television advertising spending on the 2012 election cycle could top $3 billion, up from $2.1 billion four years ago, Kantar estimates, fueled in part by the rise of independent groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns.

If anything, this figure might be too low. Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS claims they have spent $20 million already this year on ads attacking Obama and Democrats, a good portion on the debt-ceiling fight last summer. That's just one group. Add the others, and the ads from the Republican candidates, and the mud is up to your ankles already.

"Misleading" is too kind a description for these ads. Calculated, intentional deception is what they are. Perry and Romney have already been called out on it in the national press, but that doesn't seem to matter to them anymore. If people don't pay attention to the news, they'll never know about it, right? And there are a lot of people who don't pay attention to the news, believe it or not.

The Romney campaign actually bragged about the tactic after. From Steve Benen:

Just so we’re clear, Romney and his team lied. Then they got caught. Then they were pleased.

I suppose one could make the case that the leading Republican presidential campaign has a vaguely sociopathic appreciation for the public discourse, but I think Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit” tells us all we need to know. Truth, facts, evidence, reason, decency, fairness — for Romney and his team, none of this matters. It’s not that they’re considering whether to be honorable; they’ve convinced themselves that the question itself is irrelevant.

What matters is what “works.” And what “works” is what gets aired on television. Usually, professionals are slightly embarrassed when they get caught lying, but the embarrassment is motivated by a sense of shame — the truth is good, being good is worthwhile, deliberately ignoring the truth is bad, and no one wants to be bad.

But there is no embarrassment when such moral niceties are thrown out the window.

Morality went out the window long ago. It ran down the street, got on the train, and is pulling away from the station at full speed now, laughing as it goes. They don't even try to pretend anymore because they know they can get away with it. Most people know this on some level, but never underestimate the subliminal effect of constant repetition. It sets the baseline of where the conversation starts.

A great example of "what works" has already been seen here in the matter of the new Detroit bridge. All the newspaper op-eds, all the major business lobbying, all the prominent names backing construction of the DRIC or the NITC or whatever you want to call it, Canada offering to pay and the 10,000 jobs that would be created - all of that was no match for millions in deceptive advertising from the Americans For Prosperity on the issue.

"This is the third ad from DIBC (Moroun's Detroit International Bridge Company, in concert with the AFP) to blatantly stretch the truth on the bridge, two of which have personally attacked Snyder," reports the Truth Squad at the Center For Michigan. AFP used the same formula as above: Distort the facts surrounding the issue, claim viewer will suffer personal loss of "jobs" or money, attack politician as being dishonest, get results in public opinion:

Results of a recently released poll show that likely Michigan voters oppose a plan for a proposed new bridge backed by Gov. Rick Snyder between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

The poll for the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV showed 59 percent oppose the project, 30 percent support it and 11 percent were undecided.

One wonders what it might look like had there been ads that professed the benefits of the bridge. And that is the difference here: There will be ads for Obama/against Republican candidate and/or policies eventually. But will they be enough to change and overtake the baseline that is being set today, knowing that the lies are going to increase in both depth and frequency?

Get your waders on, we are about to find out - and $3 billion is just the starting bid. Chances are it's going to be more. We might never know the actual amount, but whatever it is, we will be drowning in mud by the time all is said and done.