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Kerry's Positive Ads: Selective Facts, Subtle Digs & Some Puffery

Over the top: Kerry's boast that his vote "created 20 million new jobs."

May 3, 2004

Modified: May 3, 2004

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Summary

 

Kerry released two new ads May 3, both positive and both pretty much sticking to the facts. The campaign said it would spend $25 million to run the ads for three weeks, which would make it the single largest TV ad buy of the 2004 presidential campaign so far.

The facts in the ads are selective: both spots stress Kerry's Vietnam service and decorations for valor, but barely mention of the subsequent antiwar actions that launched his political career.

And the ads contain implied digs at Bush: both point out Kerry went to Yale and volunteered for Vietnam, leaving it to the viewer to recall who also went to Yale and avoided combat.

One over-the-top claim is that Kerry's vote for the 1993 Clinton economic plan "created 20 million new jobs." In reality, many factors led to the economic boom of the 1990's, as even Clinton himself often acknowledged.

Analysis

Kerry released two new ads May 3, a $25-million media buy that Kerry campaign aides said was unprecedented. Both are 60-second ads -- double the normal length of a political spot. Both are positive and both pretty much stick to the facts, though selectively and with a bit of puffery.

Kerry Ad

"Lifetime"

Announcer:  He was born in an Army Hospital in Colorado. His father was an Army Air Corps Pilot. His mother a community leader. He went to college at Yale-- and volunteered to serve in Vietnam.
Del Sandusky: The decisions that he made saved our lives.
Jim Rassmann: When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.
Announcer: In combat, he earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. Then he came home, determined to end that war. For more than 30 years, John Kerry has served America. As a tough prosecutor, he fought for victims' rights. In the Senate, he was a leader in the fight for healthcare for children. He joined with John McCain to find the truth about POWs and MIAs in Vietnam. He broke with his own party to support a balanced budget. --Then in the 1990’s cast a decisive vote that created 20 million new jobs. A lifetime of service and strength. John Kerry for President
Kerry: I'm John Kerry and I approved this message
.

Subtle Digs at Bush

Both these ads make subtle digs at Bush's military record, through an implied contrast with Kerry's. Both spots stress that Kerry volunteered for service in Vietnam and the actions that brought him two decorations for valor. In one of the ads Kerry says to the camera:  "I thought it was important if you had a lot of privileges as I had had, to go to a great university like Yale, to give something back to your country."

Now let's see, who had "a lot of privileges" and went to Yale and did NOT volunteer for Vietnam duty? Hmmm.

Bush isn't mentioned at all, but the implied contrast is clear to anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention to the current political debate: Bush also came from a privileged background and also attended Yale, but avoided Vietnam service by getting into the Texas Air National Guard at the same time Kerry was commanding a Navy Swift boat in the Mekong Delta.

Featured in both ads are appearances by Jim Rassmann, the former Green Beret whom Kerry plucked from the water while under enemy fire on March 13, 1969. For that act Kerry later was awarded the Bronze Star. "He risked his life to save mine," Rassmann says.

Also featured is former Navy crewman Del Sandusky, who was on board Kerry's boat PCF-94 on Feb. 28, 1969 when it was ambushed. Kerry beached the boat, jumped ashore and  chased down and killed a Viet Cong soldier armed with a grenade launcher. "The decisions that he made saved our lives," Sandusky says. That's the action that won Kerry the Silver Star.

Selective Facts, and a Dubious Claim

Only one of the ads mentions the antiwar activity that launched Kerry's political career -- in nine words: "Then he came home, determined to end that war." That's a change from the biographical ads Kerry ran during the Democratic primary campaign, showing a snippet from his 1971 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee showing him calling the war a "mistake."  In that same testimony Kerry also spoke of atrocities committed by Americans. Kerry is de-emphasizing that part of his resume now that he's wooing more centrist voters.

Kerry Ad

"Heart"

Kerry:  I was born in Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Colorado.  My dad was serving in the Army Air Corp.  Both of my parents taught me about public service.  I enlisted because I believed in service to country.  I thought it was important if you had a lot of privileges as I had had, to go to a great university like Yale, to give something back to your country.
Del Sandusky:   The decisions that he made saved our lives.
Jim Rassmann:   When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.
Announcer:   For more than 30 years, John Kerry has served America.
Vanessa Kerry:   If you look at my father's time in service to this country, whether, it's as a veteran, prosecutor, or Senator, he has shown an ability to fight for things that matter.
Teresa Heinz Kerry:   John is the face of someone who's hopeful, who's generous of spirit and of heart.
John Kerry:   We're a country of optimists, we're the can do people and we just need to believe in ourselves again.
Announcer:   A lifetime of service and strength.  John Kerry for President.
Kerry:    I'm John Kerry and I approve this message.

One of the ads makes the dubious claim that Kerry "cast a decisive vote that created 20 million new jobs." That's a reference to Kerry's vote for the 1993 Clinton economic package, which contained a large tax increase and some spending cuts aimed at reducing chronic federal deficits. It's true that the Clinton package passed the Senate by a single vote when Vice President Gore cast the tie-breaker. In that sense, every Democrat who voted for the measure has an equal claim to casting the "decisive" vote. And it's also true that the total number of payroll jobs in the US grew by 21.4 million between the passage of Clinton's package in August, 1993 and the peak of the boom in March, 2001.

But it is  going too far to say that Clinton's package alone -- let alone Kerry's vote -- was responsible for the historic economic boom.

Clinton himself often acknowledged this, for example during a campaign appearance with Vice President Al Gore on August 15, 2000. Speaking of lowered unemployment, he said it was "not just us; nothing we did in Washington could have accomplished" that, adding, "our job was to create the conditions and give you the tools to live your own dreams and make your own future."

Economists also credit several positive factors beyond the control of Congress or the White House, including an increase in worker productivity, business efficiencies made possible by the Internet, and deft manipulation of interest rates by the Federal Reserve led by Chairman Alan Greenspan.

(This is the very same vote, by the way, that the Bush campaign has called a vote for "the largest tax increase in history," an equally dubious claim that we  addressed on April 16.)

According to the Kerry campaign, the ads will appear in 19 battleground states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Associated Press said the buy was the largest so far by any candidate in the 2004 campaign, and would exceed the $17 million spent by Kerry since he wrapped up the Democratic nomination two months previously. Kerry strategist Tad Devine called it "the most ambitious media campaign in the history of presidential politics."

Sources

 

Michael Kranish, "Heroism, and growing concern about war," The Boston Globe 16 June 2003: A1.

John Kerry for President Website, Citation for John Kerry's Bronze Star.

John Kerry for President Website, Citation for John Kerry's Silver Star.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 103rd Congress - 1st Session: On the Conference Report, Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 Vote #247 6 Aug 1993.

President William Clinton, "Remarks at Campaign Event With Vice President Al Gore," Monroe, Michigan FDCH Political Transcripts 15 Aug 2000

Liz Sidoti, "Kerry Launches $25 Million Ad Buy" The Associated Press 3 May 2004.

Agence FrancePresse, "Kerry launches "unprecedented" US election media blitz" 3 May 2004.