Don’t listen to the aged, humorless stuffed shirts and prigs who populate the Big Media and the Blog Underground. Watch for yourself and realize that, without question, one of the most brilliant, witty and devastatingly effective political ads ever made was unveiled last week by California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. I refer of course to that internet YouTube sensation known as the “Demon Sheep Attack Ad”!
The ad has created tremendous political buzz, while capturing the imagination of a generation of media-savvy Web surfers who expect politics to be both informative and entertaining. Yet, as NBC News reports:
it’s [still] rare for a political ad to become so popular that people want to see it over and over again; but there’s one online now that’s turned into a viral sensation.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina launched an ad this week for her Senate run that features an eerie image of a sheep with red beady eyes. It’s supposed to portray her rival, Republican front-runner in the race, Tom Campbell.
The creature in the three-and-a-half minute ad has become known as the ‘demon sheep’; and, by Friday morning, the ad had amassed more than 375,000 views on YouTube.
This is not surprising. The Demon Sheep Attack Ad, after all, is informative, entertaining and compelling. Indeed, it self-consciously mocks itself while making a serious and substantive point about Campbell; and it does so with great wit and flair. The ad’s point is that Campbell is a FCINO (pronounced: Fuh Cheen Oh): a Fiscal Conservative in Name Only.
Now, I can’t speak to the merits of Fiorina’s case against Campbell. He may or may not be a FCINO; I don’t know. What I do know is that the charges against him, as depicted in the ad, are serious, substantive and worthy of political debate. Thus, Fiorina takes issue with Campbell’s public record as a former state budget director and former congressman.
Tom Campbell: ‘Fiscal genius.’ Who would remember that, as the Governor’s Chief Budget Officer, Campbell was the architect of our disastrous 2005 budget? A budget so bloated with increased ongoing spending commitments and borrowing that it literally set the stage for the recent decline of California.
That’s fiscally conservative, Tom?
Who would remember that was the Tom Campbell Budget? We would. A budget about which the respected, non-partisan California Legislative Analyst Office wrote, ‘multi-billion dollar operating deficits…will persist’ even in the best of times.
The ad then proceeds to flail and assail Campbell for other aspects of his public record, which also are worthy of political debate. These include Campbell’s alleged support for a variety of tax hikes, his criticism of the Bush tax cuts, his refusal to sign a “taxpayer protection pledge” (read: a pledge not to vote for any new taxes or tax hikes), and his abrupt switch from running for governor to suddenly running for senator.
Finally, the ad notes, Campbell has been in public life, as an elected or appointed official, for many years. Fiorina, by contrast, is not a career politician; she instead made her career in the private sector, where she rose to be CEO of Hewlett-Packard, a Fortune 20 company.
Again, I can’t speak to the merits of Fiorina’s case against Campbell. But quite clearly, her campaign is serious, substantive, and issues-based. She’s addressing the sum and substance of public policy; and so bully for her. That’s what American politics ought to be about: serious and substantive issues.
Fiorina’s political opponents, of course, have been quick to denounce her — and her Demon Sheep Attack Ad — as unserious. Campbell political consultant Patrick Ruffini, for instance, has been Twittering furiously to try and spin the ad as somehow a debacle for Fiorina.
100% of the people I know who have watched @CarlyforCA‘s video have laughed out loud.
And no, Carly, we’re not laughing with you. We’re laughing at you.
SFist: ‘Tom Cambpell must be thrilled right about now.’ http://bit.ly/c5rIUm
The last time a campaign put demon eyes in a commercial, it lost by 13 points.
#DemonSheep is proof-positive the adage ‘all attention is good attention’ has never been true. /via @NathanWurtzel
‘It is now Campbell’s web-savvy campaign that is attempting to use the ad to raise money for his Senate run.’ http://bit.ly/b8vjtP
How’d ‘all publicity is good publicity’ work out for John Edwards?
So anyone think @CarlyforCA’s chances went up in the last 24 hours?
Ruffini and Team Campbell have reason to worry and reason to protesteth too much: because Fiorina’s Demon Sheep Attack Ad is devastatingly effective and highly amusing. Indeed, its serious and substantive message is delivered in an entertaining, over-the-top fashion. The ad depicts Campbell as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A wolf, reports the Weekly Standard,
whose eyes glow red with the outdated technology of the original Terminator’s, and who wears Rockports as he crawls menacingly through the pastures of California. Can we afford to ignore that kind of threat?
You have to see the ad to fully appreciate its wit and brilliance; but suffice it to say that the ad leaves an indelible impression — to wit: that Tom Campbell is no fiscal conservative — and that impression is believable precisely because it is substantively based. The wit and humor just make the ad sing; they are the memorable poetry that accompanies the ad’s undeniably powerful prose.
Which is why Ruffini and Team Campbell are running scared and trying to discredit the ad — and Fiorina — as unserious and not substantive. If Tom’s a FCINO, they cry, then Carly’s a SCINO: a Serious Candidate in Name Only.
Nice try, but no cigar. No one watching this ad can deny its underlying seriousness and its substantive critique of Campbell’s record. Ruffini and Team Campbell may not want to rebut this critique — hell, for all I know it may be impossible to refute this critique! — but they must at least try: because this ad has legs, as they say. It is simply too powerful to ignore or belittle.
One of the Demon Sheep Attack Ad’s smartest and most endearing features is how it mocks the notion of GOP “purity,” even as it takes Campbell to task for abandoning fiscally conservative principles and policies. Thus, the ad begins with a woman’s mocking reference to:
Purity. Piety. Our fiscal conservative leaders. Men and women we admire. Aspire to be. Wholesome. Honorable. True believers. Men like Tom Campbell. Who would never lead us astray, his pedestal so high.
[THUNDER AND OMINOUS MUSIC PLAY, AND A NEW MALE VOICE INTONES:]
Leaving but one way to fall.
The mocking reference to “purity,” “piety,” and “true believers” is designed not only to ridicule the foolish and stupidly exclusionary notion of a GOP “purity” or litmus test,” which some Republican National Committee members had been pushing. The mocking reference also is designed to take the air and hubris out of Tom Campbell, who is something of a California GOP golden boy and so-called fiscal genius.
Indeed, Campbell has the perfect — and perfectly intimidating — resume: Harvard law degree, Supreme Court clerk for Byron White, Ph.D. in economics from Chicago under the tutelage of Milton Friedman, Federal Trade Commission official in the Reagan administration, Stanford law faculty, Dean of the Haas School of Business, Congressman, and of course, state budget director for Governor Schwarzenegger.
Campbell, moreover, projects an image of piety and wholesomeness. He seems sincere, honorable, and upright. And, given his seemingly stellar conservative economic credentials, it seems reasonable to believe Campbell’s a fiscal conservative.
That’s why, politically speaking, Fiorina has to take Campbell down a notch, so to speak. She has to puncture his balloon, his aura of supreme professional competence and achievement, if ever she is to have a chance of beating him for the GOP senate nomination. Fiorina has to show that just as California has fallen off of its once illustrious economic perch, so, too, has Campbell proven to be something other than what he promised the voters of California. Thus, the ad’s line: “Leaving but one way to fall.”
You can argue the merits of Fiorina’s case against Campbell — that’s a legitimate argument to have. However, you cannot deny that Fiorina and her team have produced a brilliant, witty, and devastatingly effective campaign ad — one that is now for the ages, and which, therefore, will long be remembered – and by both voters and pundits alike.
This doesn’t mean Fiorina will win the GOP senate nomination — she may or may not; who knows? But with this daring – and demonic! — campaign ad, she has given herself a serious fighting chance.
John R. Guardiano is a journalist and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He has absolutely no connection whatsoever to any of the three California GOP senate candidates, nor their political consultants.