Political ads, as a rule, are terrible in every way. Lacking in anything approaching subtlety, creativity or production values, they usually achieve their impact through numbing repetition—you may be skeptical upon hearing that "Candidate Smith doesn't share our values," but once you've heard it 50 or 60 times, the theory goes, it should sink in. But every once in a while, one stands out, as is the case with this little gem trying to tell ladies to vote for Governor Rick Scott of Florida. It's actually one in a cookie-cutter series, with the names of other Republican governors and Democratic candidates substituted in.) The thinking behind it seems to be that if you want to relate to ladies, what you've got to do is talk about wedding dresses. Take a look:
It's a takeoff on the reality show Say Yes to the Dress, which I haven't actually seen, but I gather involves wedding dresses, and saying yes to them. While pop culture references are always a good way to grab attention, the message here is pretty condescending. It's as though they're saying, "Look, ladies, we know this politics thing is complicated, but think about this way. Candidates are like dresses…" You may recall that just a couple of weeks ago, a Republican group put up an ad showing a young woman comparing Barack Obama to a terribly disappointing and possibly abusive boyfriend. It's as though when Republicans try to figure out how to appeal to women, they say to each other:
"OK, so how do we get our message to broads? Any ideas?"
"How about we talk about the things they're into? Like, you know, boyfriends and wedding dresses and stuff?"
As Amanda Marcotte wrote, "At this point, it's hard not to wonder if the people being hired to do outreach to women on behalf of Republican candidates aren't all a bunch of Democratic moles."
(An aside: The dress ad was produced by the College Republican National Committee, which, in case you don't know, is a much bigger deal in many ways than the College Democrats are. The College Republicans isn't just a bunch of kids registering people to vote on their campuses; instead, it's a kind of combination finishing school and Thunderdome death match funded with millions of dollars in big-donor money, where the most vicious, unscrupulous, ruthless operatives-in-training rise to the top by sticking shivs in their peers until, with the blood of vanquished fellow Republicans dripping from their teeth, they are rewarded with careers in the politics business. It's the place where people like Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and Jack Abramoff learned their craft and came to the attention of their elders. If you want to know more, a few years back Franklin Foer wrote a terrific article about this little pack of Damiens.)
This isn't even the first time the College Republicans have tried this. I came across this takeoff on The Bachelorette which they put up in April, though apparently no one noticed:
To be fair, it isn't as though there's necessarily anything wrong, in the abstract anyway, with comparing candidates to romantic partners. (Remember "I've Got a Crush On Obama"?) But when you're trying to reach out to a particular group, it's important to communicate to them that you respect them and you understand their concerns. And these ads do precisely the opposite. Instead of talking about the things that are important to women, they take the same message they'd offer to anyone else, and just put in what they consider a womanly context (wedding dresses! boyfriends!). Imagine that a candidate went before an audience of Hispanics and said, "Let me explain this in a way you can relate to: My economic plan is like a really good tamale. My opponent's economic plan is like the worst tamale you ever ate. Understand?" And he'd expect everyone in the audience to turn to each other and say, "I may not care for his position on immigration, but that tamale analogy showed me that he really gets us."
Perhaps Republicans think that if nothing else, women will give them points for trying. After all, if nothing else these kinds of ads show that the GOP wants women's votes, right? Which is better than just calling them sluts all the time, I suppose. But not by much.