It’s actually a series of three ads. Each of them exploit somebody’s death for political gain. At least two of them depend on the viewer’s lack of knowledge of the legal process and fail to presents some basic facts of the topic at hand, as Martin Johnson points out on SouthNow.
But none of that matters. The average voter watching an ad in which Lt. Governor Tim Kaine is all but accused of murder, complete with harshly-lit black and white stills with photos of the deceased loved ones, their mind is made up. Kaine might be right, and Kilgore might be a sick son of a bitch for running these ads, but, with these ads, Kilgore wins and Kaine loses.
(Incidentally, attorneys should have a shiver run down their spine at the idea that their former clients’ actions can be brought to reflect upon them.)
Now, you’d think that the Kaine campaign would have anticipated these ads. I did, and what do I know? But their response ad sucks. It’s worse than useless — it’s a waste of money.
Once the Kilgore campaign runs an ad like this, there’s clearly no longer any need to abide by any basic concepts of fair play, truth, or kindness. So stop it.
The Kilgore campaign has demonstrated their understanding of how to win, which is by keeping Kilgore as far out of the public eye as possible. Kilgore’s face and voice appear only for the briefest bit of time, in order to satisfy legal requirements. They’ve likewise demonstrated that they understand that Tim Kaine’s greatest weakness is his position on the death penalty. They’ve combined these two elements into a single ad, which is, cinematographically- and politically-speaking, excellent.
So what can the Kaine campaign do?
- Stop describing Tim Kaine as “Roman Catholic.” I don’t want to hear that phrase again. He’s “Christian.” He has a “Christian opposition to the death penalty.” He needs to quote scripture and talk about the role that Christ plays in his own life. In short, he needs to witness.
- Rebuttal: Jerry Kilgore is anti-Christian. There are two things that should drive this point home:
- A press conference ASAP that features just one black preacher. (No Catholics. No Episcopalians. Baptist. Southern Baptist.) I want a preacher to weep, wail, and testify about growing up under Jim Crow, about growing up under oppression, about how the United States is a Christian nation, Virginia is a Christian state, and yet she is being attacked for the crime of being a Christian by none other than “that Kilgore character.” There must be tears. There must be fear that, under Kilgore, Virginia will become an anti-Christian state.
- A sixty second commercial featuring a black preacher, dressed to the nines. Purple suit, cane, white hat. I want him to preach full-out, with sweat flying, eyes closed, voice warbling and breaking into song when possible. I want him to preach about Christ, forgiveness, religious freedoms, and mention just once, at the end, while looking straight into the camera, wide-eyed, that “this Kilgore character” thinks that a Christian isn’t fit to lead Virginia and then spit in disgust. It should look like Errol Morris made it.
Painting Kilgore as anti-Christian can be extremely powerful. If Kilgore has mentioned religion in his race, I haven’t heard it. But I expect most people who will be voting in this race know that Kaine was a missionary in Honduras. (Kaine:missionary in Honduras::Edwards:son of a mill worker)
- Change the topic as soon as possible. Tim Kaine can’t win the death penalty debate. It requires too much education of the public. Talk about something else. Potential response ads include:
- A two-minute-long ad in the style of Oprah’s guest-introduction biographical videos, with the interview subject being one of the many children who were tortured at the Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center. Tears, sense of helplessness/hopelessness, story about the federal probe into Beaumont and the Secretary of Public Safety obstructing that probe for political reasons. The money shot is the revelation that Kilgore was that Secretary of Public Safety, and the subject asking, directly to Kilgore, “Why did you let them hurt me? Why?”
- A three-minute long ad, in black and white, featuring one of these right-wing loonies that we’ve all found ourselves sitting next to at dinner parties every so often, the ones that are so crazy you wonder how they manage to have an otherwise normal life. Sit him down in front of a camera for a couple of hours, gain his confidence, and get him to talk about how much he hates gays, blacks, Jews and Catholics, how he thinks that President Bush is a part of the Illuminati and bringing about the New World Order. At some point, get him to say that he plans to vote for Kilgore. Edit cleverly. Air once.
- A series of balls-out ads attacking Kilgore’s sexuality and manhood. This is, obviously, Kilgore’s single biggest weak point — and it’s completely fair game now. Show a series of clips of Kilgore talking, walking, and being interviewed, edited for the most embarrassing bits. (Think John Kerry throwing a football or going goose-hunting.) Accuse him of being a weak little sissy boy who couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag; somebody who can’t keep Virginians safe. Present Tim Kaine as a virile, manly leader who impregnates women with his mere glance; show him chopping wood, taking a swig out of a bottle of Bud, and roping a calf. In short, make Kilgore a laughingstock.
This campaign is now a knife fight. The last man standing wins. Tim Kaine can lose with dignity, or he can win fighting. I advocate the latter.