By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Both the Sanders and the Clinton campaigns have issued their “closing” TV ads for the Iowa caucuses (which may be repurposed for the New Hampshire primary; I don’t know). Both are sixty seconds long and obviously produced by highly professional campaign teams. The Sanders ad is titled “America”; the Clinton ad, “Stand Up.” First, I’m going to present both ads, along with a “census” of the people who appear in each, for reasons I’ll get to. Next, I’ll compare and contrast the two. Finally, I’ll look very briefly at the “theories of change” that both ads embody. (This is the trench warfare part.)
I encourage you to view both ads; sixty-seconds exposure can’t possibly be toxic. And even if you’re completely alienated from today’s electoral process, who knows? You might wish to make your own videos some day, or encourage other political actors to do so. (Also, there may be more nuances that I did not change, and my census could probably use some double-checking; the computer screen is what it is, and my eyes are what they are.) Oh, and turn up the volume; the soundtracks are important. So, to the ads!
Sanders Ad: “America”
(Covered in the New York Times.) Here is the “census” of the Sanders ad; I’ve included the time codes so you can check me. The candidate’s name is in ALL CAPS:
0:04 White middle class woman with girl child
0:05 Older white farmer woman feeding cow
0:06 Old white farmer walking down line of cows
0:08 Young white female and white male hipster creatives at computers
0:09 Young white woman at cafe with young white male barista
0:10 30-something white male and female in office setting
0:11 30-something white female, baby, and white (bearded) male
0:12 Heavily bearded white male walking in snow with young white girl
0:14 Old white farm couple moving hay in barn
0:15 Older white couple dancing at Sanders rally with crowd and background
0:17 Two white women in flannel with Sanders sign in crowd at rally (all-white)
0:18 SANDERS shaking hands with white man in cap in crowd (all-white)
0:19 SANDERS shaking hands with different white man in cap in different crowd (all-white)
0:20 Crowd (not all white) holding “We love Bernie” signs
0:21 Black Sanders volunteer slapping hands with other volunteers
0:23 White boy in snowsuit holding calf, white farmer man in background moving haybale.
0:24 Same white family with cow herd, bales of hay
0:25 Same white family: Grandson, father, grandfather, presumbly.
0:26 SANDERS shaking hands at (all-white) rally
0:30 SANDERS and Jane Sanders walking toward rally through crowd (all-white)
0:31 Applauding audience at rally (almost all-white)
0:32 SANDERS at rally with big American flag in background (crowd faces indistinguishable).
0:33 – 0:36 Series of montages of contributors/volunteers, with “THEY’VE” “ALL” “COME” “FOR” “AMERICA” superimposed (almost all white).
0:39 SANDERS speaking at rally on Lake Champlain (crowd faces indistinguishable).
0:41 SANDERS shaking hands with line of supporters (almost all white).
0:42 SANDERS embracing black woman.
0:42 SANDERS and Jane Sanders walking hand-in-hand with two (white) children down street, waving
0:43 SANDERS at rally with young white man, young black woman, crowd in background
0:44 Crowd waving Sanders placards, one Asian woman.
0:45 SANDERS speaking at rally, crowd holding “Bernie” signs (crowd faces indistinguishable)
0:47 Young man holding child (waving flag)
0:48 SANDERS at podium, crowd out of focus and indistinguishable
0:49 Audience waving “Bernie” signs at (almost all-white) rally.
0:50 Young white men and women waving signs, punching air with fists.
0:52 Auditorium rally (crowd faces indistinguishable).
0:54 0:50 Young men and women waving signs, punching air with fists (almost all-white)
0:54 Even bigger auditorium rally, with cellphone lights (crowd faces indistinguishable).
0:57- 0:59 Close up of SANDERS, smiling at podium, with (almost all white) crowd in background.
Clinton Ad: “Stand Up”
(Covered in the New York Times.) Here is the “census” of the Clinton ad, also with time codes, and with the candidate’s name is in ALL CAPS:
0:03 Naval personnel on carrier, backs to camera, watching plane launch
0:07 White woman, child, white man at kitchen table.
0:09 CLINTON as first lady with (all-white) schoolkids
0:10 CLINTON with (mostly black) schoolkids
0:13 CLINTON with (almost all-white) 9/11 dignitaries and emergency personnel (one black).
0:14 Two male figures in smoky 9/11 street
0:15 CLINTON with all-white male 9/11 dignitaries
0:16 CIINTON as SoS waving from plane.
0:16 CLINTON as SoS with all-white, all-male dignitaries and military personnel
0:19 CLINTON as SoS with white, male Vladimir Putin
0:21 Backlit CLINTON as SoS.
0:22 CLINTON speaking in midst of all white, male/female crowd
0:23 CLINTON at national-security meeting with Obama and other men, all white.
0:24 CLINTON with white male factory workers and white female co-ordinator
0:27 Old white man and old white woman
0:28 White women holding Planned Parenthood signs
0:32 White hand lifting gun at gun sale
0:33 White woman coordinator, white woman worker, black man worker (in hard hats).
0:36 Trump rally, with white male crowd waving placards
0:37 White male lifting gun
0:39 CLINTON speaking to crowd of older men and women, faces distinguishable (all white)
0:40 CLINTON speaking to crowd (almost all-white).
0:41 CLINTON surrounded by crowd of men and women, some press (all white).
0:42 CLINTON speaking to crowd (not all-white)
0:44 CLINTON with three white women, shaking hands with a little white girl
0:45 CLINTON with white man. maybe staffer or security
0:46 CLINTON with four white men at small (manufacturing?) business
0:47 CLINTON with two white men
0:48 CLINTON at campaign rally, in crowd (all-white)
0:49 CLINTON in restuarant with white woman (foreground) and white man (background)
0:50 CLINTON at coffee shop table with two young white women and an older man, two white men in background
0:51 CLINTON shaking hands with young girl in campaign crowd (all-white)
0:52 CLINTON in campaign crowd, men and women (all-white, except maybe for the almost-completely obscured face at top left).
0:54 CLINTON embraces white woman.
0:55 CLINTON alone giving speech
0:56 Crowd waving placards (faces not distinguishable).
0:57 CLINTON and two women, one older, white, the other younger.
The Sanders and Clinton Ads Compared
To give credit to Clinton, campaign chair Podesta yanked attack puppy David Brock’s choke collar when Brock proposed (suicidally) to go after Sanders on his personal health. But here’s what Brock had to say about the Sanders ad:
David Brock, a longtime Clinton supporter who founded the “super PAC” backing her, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the advertising presented a “bizarre” image of America focused on white voters. Mr. Brock also said the ad was a “significant slight to the Democratic base,” according to the news agency.
“From this ad it seems black lives don’t matter much to Bernie Sanders,” Mr. Brock told The Associated Press.
To determine Brock’s “focus on white voters,” let’s look at the census for each candidate’s ad: Black adults shown for Sanders: 3. For Clinton: 2. Crowds/rallies (with distinguishable faces) that are not all white: Sanders 6/11; Clinton: 3/9. More importantly, look at the adult social relations: The Sanders volunteer (0:21) clearly has agency, and the older black woman (0:42) is being embraced by Sanders (to be fair, Clinton also embraces a woman at 0:54, albeit a white one). More centrally, all blacks portrayed in the Clinton ad are in subordinate positions: A white woman coordinator and an almost out-of-frame black worker (0:33), not to mention the single, centered, dominant white woman and the many black children (0:10). I could wish that both ads were better, but the Sanders ad is, if anything, less “bizarre” than the Clinton ad.
Apparently Podesta didn’t direct Brock not to lie, or to be vile (or, to be fair, Podesta and Brock failed to coordinate properly). All that money, and the Clinton campaign can’t come up with a competent surrogate? Smarter attack puppies, please.
2. Candidate Focus
Here again we can turn to the census: Sanders appears 13 times; Clinton, 26. “From this ad,” as David Brck usefully phrases it, and these metrics, as well as the montage of supporters in “America” — nothing remotely like it appears in “Stand Up” — it would be fair to say that the Clinton campaign is about Clinton; the Sanders campaign, by contrast, is about his supporters.
3. Candidate Spouses
Here again we have metrics from the census: Appearances with spouse, Sanders: 2 (0:30 and 0:42). Appearances with spouse, Clinton: 0. One can only wonder why.
4. Sound Track and Dominant Emotions
The Clinton soundtrack is a doomy rapid-fire voiceover spoken one of those dominance-hormone-soaked male announcers. So scary! And very old-fashioned. The Sanders soundtrack, by contrast, is not spoken but sung: Simon and Garfunkel’s America. To veer into policy for a moment, here’s why Garfunkel authorized the Sanders campaign to use the song:
I believe the monied interests have gone too far and have rigged the system.
The dominant emotion is Clinton’s ad is clearly fear: As the Times puts it:
It feels as if it’s much longer than 60 seconds, and that is a good thing: The ad seeks to give Mrs. Clinton’s strengths the feeling of overwhelming force while conveying that only she has what it takes to meet the demands of the presidency and to defend what Democrats hold dear.
“Defend.” That’s fear. Or, as Greg Sargent puts it:
Clinton has reverted to a hard-boiled message about the need for experience and toughness to confront a dangerous, complicated world.
Again, fear. Sargent goes on to contrast Clinton’s message to Sanders. The headline reads: “Bernie Sanders wants to be this year’s hope and change candidate,” but I don’t think that’s quite right; I think the the dominant emotion in the Sanders ad is not hope, but wonder. Garfunkel again, on what he sought to convey musically:
I wanted my arrangement to be urgent, reaching, yearning, shining, and full of glory, full of my love for this country.
And wonder is what the last shot of “America” conveys to me: Sanders looking out over the crowd, amazed at what has (finally?) come into being (and with 70% small contributors, too, none of whom, by definition, are maxed out). The Times writes:
The ad actually said plenty about how Mr. Sanders views the Democratic presidential contest. As politicians often say but seldom get across so viscerally, the election is ultimately about the voters. By turning over the microphone to Simon and Garfunkel, and aiming the camera not at Mr. Sanders so much as at Iowans generally and his admirers specifically, the ad tries to convey that “what Bernie Sanders is building is a movement in America,” explained Tad Devine, his senior strategist.
Well, Mr. Devine, I hope so because that’s what it will take. But I haven’t seen any institutional signs of it. When is that happening?
“America” and “Stand Up” could also be said to embody the “theories of change” of both candidates. Greg Sargent again:
Still, it’s worth noting that the differences between Sanders and Clinton go beyond policy, to the very core of how change can be secured. Clinton has come to see politics as essentially a form of trench warfare. Clinton’s closing ad in Iowa vows to “stop the Republicans from ripping all our progress away,” an implicit acknowledgment that a new Democratic president (whoever it might be) would be deeply constrained from realizing his or her agenda, meaning the 2016 election is mostly about whether Dems can prevent total Republican rule from rolling back the gains of the Obama years. Clinton acknowledges the true nature of the structural impediments to change; that the country is deeply divided ideologically; and that we will probably remain stuck in a grueling holding pattern for years — meaning legislative advances will be ground out on the margins, thorough difficult, painstaking efforts to peel off Republicans and forge compromises that will look dirty and will really, really suck.
Operative K says the same thing, summarized here by Robert Reich:
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman yesterday warned Bernie supporters that change doesn’t happen with “transformative rhetoric” but with “political pragmatism” — “accepting half loaves as being better than none.” He writes that it’s dangerous to prefer “happy dreams (by which he means Bernie) to hard thinking about means and ends (meaning Hillary).”
Krugman doesn’t get it. I’ve been in and around Washington for almost fifty years, including a stint in the cabinet, and I’ve learned that real change happens only when a substantial share of the American public is mobilized, organized, energized, and determined to make it happen.
I should say something trenchant here about Italian theorist Antonio Gramsi’s distinction between “war of position” and “war of maneuver,” but in my reading — I’ll stick with the trench warfare metaphor — at some point, victory requires transforming a war of position into a war of maneuver; to break through the enemy lines, as it were. In World War I, the Germans, fueled by troops released from their victory on the Russian front, invented infiltration tactics and assault troops to break through the Allied trenches; they initiated the war of maneuver, and failed. The Allies initiated the war of maneuver too, with technology, the tank (not to mention the advent of the Americans), did break through the enemy lines, and won.
1. It’s “pragmatic” to have victory as a goal;
2. It’s “pragmatic” to define what victory might mean;
3. It’s “pragmatic” to invent, test, and deploy new tactics (like infiltration tactics);
4. It’s “pragmatic” to invent, test, and deploy new new technology (like the tank).
I don’t think either legacy party establishment has victory as a goal (and that’s one reason Republican base is so truly ticked off). Certainly the Clinton campaign does not: “[S]top the Republicans from ripping all our progress away” is not victory. Nor is a pre-compromised mish-mash of focus-grouped plans. If anything, the trench warfare continues because both party establishments wish to keep their respective factions of the political class in tassel-loafers, and that’s about it (which is why the endless trench warfare of permanent campaigns important to them, ka-ching). There is no thought of transitioning to a war of maneuver at all. In the corporate world, that’s cause for a hostile takeover.
And as far as inventing new tactics and technologies, the record of the Democrats is decidedly mixed: Howard Dean invented the 50-state strategy and the Democrat won the House and the Senate in 2006 (how excited we all were). The party establishment promptly stuffed Dean back in his box, dismantled the new strategy, and brought in Emmanuel, Israel, and all the rest of ’em as replacements. Bush was awful enough, and Obama just good enough, for the Democrats to win in 2008, with the aid of new tactics (Obama for America) and new technology (data-driven GOTV with the cellphone as a platform). After Obama’s victory, the new tactics were at once abandoned, as OFA was stuffed back into the box along with Dean, and victory was abandoned as a goal, as Obama systematically rehabilitated the Republican party. The party establishment then proceeded to lose badly in 2010, and worse in 2014, with Obama’s stroll to victory over the Republican party establishment in 2012 the only bright spot. Does that record sound “pragmatic” to you?
More centrally, with hindsight, we can see that there was one sea change in the organizational capacity of the Democratic electorate in 2008: It could be mobilized, and came to understand it could be mobilized. That is the lesson of 2008, and it would have enabled a continuing war of maneuver had not the Democratic establishment sought instantly to unlearn it (and Obama, personally, to betray it). It may be that we are to learn the same lesson, again, with the Sanders campaign, but this time with victory as a goal, and defined. If so, the sense of wonder in “America” may well prove to be prophetic.
 I’m not including crowd shots of dignitaries, since that class skews so heavily white it would be unfair to Clinton. And again, please check my figures; I thought of this as a prose problem before I thought of it as a data problem.
 Even a purely attritional war of position must go over to maneuver to take and hold ground, or destroy the enemy’s forces. Otherwise, you have two ever-weakening armies locked in a permanent death grip.