The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion ‘They’ve all come to look for America.’ They just have to watch Clinton’s ad to find it.

In two separate ads released within days of each other, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton have now presented their visions of America. But only one makes me feel included.

Being a man of a certain age, I love Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.” Those voices and those lyrics take me back to a simpler time. When my only care was where my next toy would come from. Yet those warm, childhood feelings gave way to grown-up political observation.

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Sanders is running a revolutionary, future-oriented campaign fueled in large part by the enthusiasm of young people. People who are more globally aware than any American generation in history. Yet, his beautifully crafted ad features a song by a duo who provided part of the soundtrack for the political and social tumult of the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps that minute-in-retro will resonate with folks who have yet to #feelthebern. But for an ad that beckons us to “look for America,” the pictures accompanying the lyrics looked nothing like the America or the Democratic Party of today or the future.

Sure, all the hay bales, farm animals and white people are visual cues to the good folks of Iowa (Feb. 1) and New Hampshire (Feb. 9), who will finally make their voices heard in the caucuses and primary next month. But what of the black and brown people of Nevada (Feb. 20), South Carolina (Feb. 27) and the Super Tuesday states (March 1)? They are a part of this America we’re looking for, no? The Sanders ad clashes with the revolutionary, all-inclusive aura the senator has cultivated.  

Clinton’s ad is the exact opposite of the Sanders offering. His ad is almost as white as the Oscars. Her commercial could be described as “a gorgeous mosaic,” as former New York mayor David Dinkins liked to call the Big Apple. Not only is it chock full of people of color, the ad has all kinds of people. A same-sex male couple kisses. A disabled woman wheels up to the camera. A Muslim woman in a hijab. Sanders says nothing. Clinton makes her case for being president.

I have spent my entire adult life looking for ways to even the odds. To help people have a chance to get ahead. To find the ways for each child to live up to his or her God-given potential.
I’m fighting for all Americans, not just some. For the struggling, the striving and the successful. No matter who you are, what you look like, what faith you practice or who you love, I am fighting for you. I’m fighting for everyone who’s ever been knocked down, but refused to be knocked out. I’m going to fight until every little girl in America knows she can grow up to be anything she wants, even president of the United States.

This might sound like a general-election message, but it also has the benefit of being an inclusive one for a multicultural and multiethnic Democratic Party. Voters want to see themselves in a candidate’s message and platform. Whoever you are, you most likely saw yourself in the Clinton ad. We’ll soon find out whether this appeal is effective.

The whole point of a political ad is to elicit an emotional response, to get the viewer to respond from the gut or the heart. Both successfully tug at the heart. Yet Clinton got it right. By way of Simon and Garfunkel, Sanders says, “They’ve all come to look for America.” And I saw America, as it is lived today and will be in the future, in the Clinton ad.

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