Clinton Plays the Fear Card

Saturday, March 1, 2008


It's 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call. Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military -- someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world. It's 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?


This is a classic, fear-stirring incumbent's ad in which, without mentioning his name, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton strongly suggests that Sen. Barack Obama is not prepared to be commander in chief.

What is unusual is that Clinton, although she is the wife of a former president, is not the incumbent and lacks military experience. Beyond that, her only current edge over Obama is that she serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

With its portentous music, darkened shots of sleeping children and closing shot of Clinton, in glasses, answering the phone, the spot strikes the same emotional chord as Lyndon Johnson's infamous 1964 "daisy" ad against Barry Goldwater, which ended with a nuclear explosion. In 1984, Ronald Reagan used footage of a bear that might be "vicious and dangerous" as a metaphor for the Soviet threat. In 1992, running against Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush talked about "times of crisis" and said "we simply cannot put America's future at risk with a person who is wrong for the job."

But perhaps its closest cousin is the 1984 "red phone" ad that Walter Mondale ran against Gary Hart, his opponent in the primaries: "The most awesome, powerful responsibility in the world lies in the hand that picks up this phone. The idea of an unsure, unsteady, untested hand is something to really think about." That ad was made by media adviser Roy Spence, who now works for the Clinton campaign.

For Clinton to indirectly raise the specter of a terrorist attack underscores the stakes in Tuesday's Ohio and Texas primaries. Obama responded at a veterans event yesterday, saying he has the "judgment" to answer the phone at 3 a.m.

-- Howard Kurtz

Video of this ad can be found at

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