As I was reading my favorite Web sites this morning, up popped a new Mitt Romney ad depicting a long line of unemployed workers. It carried the slogan: “Obama isn’t working.”
As readers of this blog may know, I have a love for British politics, and so I knew exactly where the ad came from. Romney – well, I’ll be polite here – borrowed it from Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party, which used exactly the same advertisement against Prime Minister James Callaghan’s Labour Party government.
Thatcher went on to win the 1979 election.
Not surprisingly, the British press picked up on this immediately. The Daily Mail noted that “the tribute to Mrs. Thatcher . . . came after the Boston Globe reported that Mr. Romney would travel to London next month to drum up campaign cash from Americans abroad.”
I don’t quite know what to make of this. On the one hand, it’s an interesting ploy and, after all, I am writing about it and reproducing Romney’s ad, as many others no doubt will, so that’s a win. And Lord knows that campaign slogans and ads are recycled again and again, often to great effect. Barack Obama’s crack consultant David Axelrod used the slogan “Yes, we can” on behalf of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in 2006 before he used it for Obama in 2008. It worked both times.
On the other hand, Axelrod was at least using his own material. In this case, Romney is using a British import – the latest version of off-shoring.
But give the Romney campaign credit for this: It didn’t pretend to have come up with the idea all by itself. Indeed, on the Romney website, Stuart Stevens offered a tribute to the British Conservatives:
In 1978, Saatchi and Saatchi, then an up-and-coming advertising agency hired by the British Conservative Party and their campaign for Margaret Thatcher, created a historic political poster depicting the negative economic conditions and the government's failed attempts to correct that path. Labeled the poster of the century by the magazine Campaign, the image pointed to Britain's economic climate of rising unemployment, rising inflation, and a large and growing national debt. Those conditions and the public discontent throughout the country during that election and the parallels that Americans face today cannot be ignored. With unemployment rising from 3.6% in 1974 to 5.3% in 1979, the British knew there was a problem. Now, America faces 9.1% unemployment, record deficits, a soaring national debt, and millions of struggling families. One thing is clear – Obama isn't working, either.
Okay, but the big difference is that the economic mess Obama inherited was the creation of some of the very policies that Romney now endorses, including low taxes on the wealthy and deregulation. And Thatcher finally won the 1979 election after a series of strikes that turned Britain against the trade union movement, and thus against the Labor Party. At the moment, it’s the Republicans’ attacks on organized labor that are proving to be unpopular.
But notice what just happened: Stevens got me into this debate in the first place, which is the kind of thing Romney is hoping for. The interesting question is who else will Romney steal from and to what effect? And will he start a whole debate on Thatcher’s policies, which didn’t play well in the long run?
“The British invasion” worked with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Unlike Romney, they were actually British.