So let’s see what they’re saying. We begin with Joe Biden:
This is a bit of a departure for Biden, who has based much of his campaign on a pair of propositions: that he’s the most electable candidate, and that once President Trump is defeated, we can return to normalcy. Though Biden has plenty of policy plans, his vision is in many ways the least ambitious of the candidates; he argues that banishing Trump is almost all that’s needed to restore the country.
But here we see him conjuring a vision of the future — “Imagine all the progress we can make in the next four years.” He mentions the urgency of beating Trump, but it’s somewhat different to see him selling hope and inspiration.
Next we have Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.):
This is also a little unusual in that it doesn’t mention any of Sanders’s signature issues or even his main themes, such as taking on the “millionaires and billionaires.” Instead it presents Sanders as a unifier, calling us to shared purpose and common fate.
Here’s Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) closing ad:
Here, the candidate who crafted an identity out of having a plan for everything wants you to meet some members of her family — particularly the Republicans — who testify to her honesty and caring. The ad has a very middle-America feeling to it: Folks sitting around what appear to be modest homes, putting a sign in the front yard of a suburban street, just talking about how much they love Aunt Betsy.
Now we go to Pete Buttigieg:
Like Biden, Buttigieg mentions some policy issues, but his is an anti-Washington message, something he’s been emphasizing more in recent days. “It’s time to turn the page,” he says, “from a Washington experience paralyzed by the same old thinking, polarized by the same old fights, to a bold vision for the next generation.”
This is a familiar message: Elect me, and we won’t have these tiresome arguments anymore, and we’ll finally get things done. It sometimes convinces people; it’s just never true.
On to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.):
More unity! “Klobuchar can unite our party and perhaps our nation,” the narrator said. “That’s why she’s visited all of Iowa’s 99 counties.”
It’s hard to tell why her packed travel schedule derives from her ability to unite the nation, but every four years, hitting every Iowa county is considered a badge of honor for those who can manage it. And you have to admire the practical realism in saying that “perhaps” Klobuchar can unite the nation. Because of course she won’t; if she becomes president, Republicans will immediately decide she was spat from the very fires of hell to destroy America.
But what all these candidates understand is that as elusive as national unity might be, most of us still want to believe it’s possible. After this long campaign, we’d like to think our vote will help bring about a future of prosperity, peace and justice. We may be angry much of the time these days, but we still want to feel hope.
So after they’ve made all their arguments about policy and the country’s problems, the candidates give us swelling music, smiling voters and the promise of a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if we know that the next four years are likely to be just as bitter and acrimonious as the last four (or 10, or 20), we want to believe that a different future is possible. So that’s what they sell us.
Update: The Klobuchar campaign informs us that they consider not the ad above but this ad, which was released the same day, to be their closing argument in Iowa.