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Posted at 06:49 PM ET, 08/09/2012

The Obama campaign’s bad ad memory problems


That man we did the conference call with where he told his story? I’ve never heard his story before in my life! (© Dave Kaup / Reuters - REUTERS)
I am genuinely concerned about the Obama campaign.

It’s not that I have the greatest memory in the world. They say it is more noble to forget than to forgive, in which case I am one of the most noble folks alive. In matters of any importance, I bring an elephant with me whom I can consult later.

But the Obama campaign should, I think, get its memory checked.

It was just May when Joe Soptic the steelworker appeared on an Obama campaign conference call, speaking feelingly about his experience after Bain took over his steel plant, he was laid off, and his wife (who had earlier lost her health insurance) was diagnosed with cancer and died. It was quite stirring. Sure, he drew what CNN points out is a bit too direct of a line between these incidents and Mitt Romney. But say what you like about it, it was definitely memorable.

Yet just this month, he appeared in an ad for Priorities USA (the pro-Obama PAC, not coordinated with the campaign) to draw the same too-direct line between his wife’s death from cancer and Mitt Romney’s Bain tenure.

And suddenly the Obama campaign came down with a galloping case of amnesia.

“WHO IS THIS MAN?” they asked. “WHAT’S HE TALKING ABOUT? HUH? WHAT? WHO ARE YOU? WHY ARE WE TALKING TO YOU? AM I JASON BOURNE?”

I am not saying a bad memory is without its virtues. It is the secret to most happy, normal childhoods.

And the secret to a good SuperPAC is that it pursues the same goals as an official campaign through similar, if sometimes less dignified methods, and the campaign can emerge from the woodwork whenever it goes too far to reiterate that they are not coordinating with it in any way.

But this struck me as a bit much.

I don’t know which is worse: that they weren’t listening to Mr. Soptic as he told his voter-swaying story about layoffs and cancer, or that they forgot it immediately afterwards. Generally when someone tells you a story like that, the only polite thing to do is to pretend to have some familiarity with it when they bring it up afterwards. I know that, as Fran Lebowitz noted, the opposite of talking is not listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. But one can at least pretend to be somewhat moved by a story like that. Otherwise you look like a self-centered, cynical operation.

“Oh, that Joe Soptic who was laid off after Bain took over his plant, and whose wife then perished of cancer,” you mumble, nervously. “I thought you meant the other guy.”

Now, after a day of demonstrating every sign of total, sudden-onset memory loss — “I don’t know the facts about when Mr. Soptic’s wife got sick or the facts about his health insurance,” Stephanie Cutter said on CNN; “We don’t have any knowledge of the story of the family,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told press on Air Force One — they seem to have come back to themselves.

Today the campaign admitted to Politico, that it did, in fact remember what had gone on. “"No one is denying he was in one of our campaign ads. He was on a conference call telling his story," said spokeswoman Jen Psaki to reporters.

Perhaps there is no bungled distancing effort here and this is not a case of mangled, silly, overdone denials. Perhaps someone simply struck the Obama campaign on the head with a blunt object right after the Priorities USA ad aired, and only came back just now to bonk them again, miraculously restoring their memory. I’ve seen that happen before in movies.

Admittedly, it wasn’t too realistic then either.

By  |  06:49 PM ET, 08/09/2012

 
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