In Romney-Obama Video War, Downcast Americans Take Center Stage

May 15, 2012
Originally published on May 15, 2012 4:47 pm

Forget about President Franklin Roosevelt's "Forgotten Man," the everyday American who's down on his luck economically and ignored by the powers that be.

When it comes to modern presidential campaigns and the ads they spawn, such Americans are front and center. And they are wielded like cudgels by the political contestants.

That reality can be seen in highly-produced, pathos-filled videos released this week by both the campaigns of President Obama and Mitt Romney, the all-but-official Republican presidential nominee.

As NPR's Greg Henderson reported in a post Monday the day it went up on YouTube, the Obama ad, which criticizes Romney's years at private-equity company Bain Capital, may seem familiar.

That's because it reprises charges made by Newt Romney during the GOP primaries and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in his 1994 Senate campaign that Romney was complicit in the layoffs of hundreds of workers during his time as Bain's chief executive.

Team Romney on Tuesday made public a Tuesday featuring its own everyday Americans. specifically Iowans, meant to symbolize all those unemployed, underemployed or discouraged workers Romney lays at Obama's feet — 23 million, according to former Massachusetts senator.

Against a soundtrack of a piano that seems to be playing a variation of the hymn "Sweet Hour of Prayer," a salt-of-the-earther featured in Romney's ad says:

"That's the problem, a lot of people around here, you know, when Barack was running and all that, everyone believed, everyone had hope, they all thought 'Man, this guy is going to get something done.' When he is in office, now it just seems like nothing is getting done. It seems like it's all talk. You know, you can say whatever you want, it's not about saying what everyone wants to hear; it's about doing it."

One always striking aspect of this genre of political ad is how downbeat the people tend to be. Since they're meant to be stand-ins for the unhappy electorate, that makes sense. Their gloominess is usually in sharp contrasts with the can-do optimism the candidates themselves reflect when they're featured in ads.

Both videos tug the heartstrings as they were meant to. It would take a Mr. Spock not to be moved by the stories of people telling of the very real losses in their lives caused by corporate downsizing or the local effects from the unraveling of the national economy.

Whether this video tug of war featuring the hard luck stories of everyday Americans will move enough of the people they're aimed at in one direction or another is impossible to know at this point. The only certain thing is that both campaigns are stockpiling their real-people stories for all the videos to come between now and November.

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