Some people call it Election Day; I call it Christmas. Network news anchors nattering on with hardly anything substantive to report for hours, until they spin into the Realm of the Truly Weird around 1 a.m.; endless refreshes on Talking Points Memo, Drudge, and Mystery Pollster; breathless phone calls to anyone who shares my excitement about the likely outcome of Arizona's Eighth District -- yeah, I'll say it: better than sex.
Why? Because Election Day, like coitus, is all about the build-up, and Midterms '06 have been marked with a red circle on many a political junkie's calendar since November 2, 2004. We -- the few, the moderately proud, the socially awkward -- have been pouring over poll data for months, and before there were polls, or even challengers, we were acting as if each event in the news cycle brimmed with the significance of the cosmos.
And have no doubt: YouTube has been instrumental in feeding this obsession. Advertisements and gaffes, speeches and slurs... they have found an immediate and permanent home on the website -- and the political process has been permanently changed for it. (Whether that's a good thing or not is an open question I might address in the future, but, for now, this is a place to start.) So, now, let's recap the midterm that was by scanning through the video clips that had the most impact on this, our first YouTube election.
Strangest Channeling of a Movie Character for Electoral Gain
Easy: David Strathairn, as Edward R. Murrow, in support of House challenger Kristen Gillibrand.
I don't find the ad to be effective -- a little too put-on for my taste -- but this other ad for Gillibrand's campaign (although not by her campaign) is a classic, mocking her opponent's appearance at a recent Union College frat party. (Awesome photographic evidence of that, too. Check out the guy ripping a jay-bird in the top right):
Most Emotionally Fraught Issue
Embryonic stem cell research. Of course, this issue brought us Michael J. Fox's advertisements, which were the most visually arresting of the cycle. No amount of FX wizardry could match the gut-punch of watching him writhe uncontrollably while expressing his support for certain Democratic candidates. One last time, here he is supporting Ben Cardin in Maryland (and note how he explicitly references George W. Bush, something he wasn't able to do for Claire McCaskill in the redder state of Missouri):
This, however, is a very effective counterpunch from the campaign of Cardin's opponent, Michael Steele, who might just pull off an upset victory today. Keep an eye out...
The last ad I'll show that hits on stem cell research is different in that it employs actors spelling out hypothetical situations -- but it's no less powerful.
Most Incendiary Advertisement
Yep, the race-baiting ad the RNC ran against Harold Ford in Tennessee, which reminded some people of the GOP's infamous "Southern Strategy:"
In fairness, though, Ford cut an ad of his own that was so blatant in its religiousness (it's in a church, for chrissakes!) that, had a Republican aired it, all of Cambridge, Mass., would've put down their lattes as one and posted nasty, hateful things on their blogs:
Most Thematically Disjointed Campaign Promise
That would have to go to Cruz Bustamante, running for Insurance Commissioner of California. Let's get this straight, Cruz: because you ran in a marathon and lost weight, you're going to lower insurance rates. Riiiight...
Pol Whose Reputation Was Most Irrevocably Damaged By YouTube
George Allen, senator and former governor of Virginia, and, until recently, a leading contender for the 2008 Republican nomination for president. Until recently, you say? Yeah, largely due to YouTube, Mr. Macacawitz is a joke. Here's how our favorite $1.6 billion website took down a political heavyweight: in May, Ryan Lizza with The New Republic wrote a piece examining Allen's predilection for most things Dixie, despite a childhood spent on the tony edge of the west coast. Then, this happened...
... and then people came out of the woodwork saying that he used to drop the N-word into casual conversation, and then he said in a televised debate that asking if his mother was Jewish was tantamount to "making aspersions," and now, it looks as if he might lose to Jim Webb today. And even if he does manage to hang on, his future has dimmed significantly. The lesson to future campaigns? As this article persuasively argues: don't let YouTube clips reinforce previously held negative beliefs about a candidate. Easier said than done... especially when your pol is as skilled of a gaffe machine as Senator Allen.
Pol Whose Star Has Risen Almost Exclusively Because of YouTube's Influence
YouTube doesn't discriminate based on factual certainty or moral clarity; it's a place where those who speak in the highest volumes reach more eyeballs than they could've ever hoped to before. Which brings us to North Carolina Republican House challenger Vernon Robinson. He's been mentioned in this column before, and whew doggie, is he a nut. But before YouTube, he would've been a nut confined to the North Carolina 12th; now, he's raked in a pretty penny from outside his district and has become something of a cult hero because of hyperbolic and factually dubious ads like this:
Yet YouTube has its own internal fact-checking mechanisms as well, and this one, spearheaded most improbably by Sean Hannity, is a joy to watch:
Most Enjoyable Campaign Ad (Intellectual Dishonesty Category)
In this ad attacking House candidate Michael Arcuri, the National Republican Congressional Committee suggests that, well, just watch...
Hot, right? A little strange for the GOP to be showing something so racy given their frequent suggestions that smut like this is hurting our "American values?" Sure, but I like silhouetted naked chicks as much the next guy. Problem is, the phone call in question was a single misdial (by a single number) that cost New York taxpayers -- wait for it -- a buck and a quarter.
No shortage here, this being the year of Mark Foley and the "botched joke" -- but these two, from Reps. Thomas Reynolds and Don Sherwood, were particularly striking. Reynolds was accused of sitting on the Foley emails for too long, hoping that they wouldn't put a safe seat in play. Oh, and Sherwood reportedly strangled his mistress during a back massage. This is his apology. Do these come close to being effective? What say you?
Screw real politicians. I'm voting for Jimmy Jones: