[UPDATE Apparently this ad is not a true Kerry ad, but one created by an independent group. Personally, I’d say they didn’t do Kerry any great favors, as viewers will inevitably associate the ad with Kerry, as I automatically did. Stephen Frost has a great post that tells us exaxctly what the Chinese characters in the ad say, who placed the ad and where you can see it for yourself.]
I will do everything I can to support John Kerry in the race against George W. Bush. That said, I was highly disappointed to view a Kerry TV commercial that I find misguided, deceptive and inappropriate. And Kerry and his team have to know it.
The ad begins by showing a group of factories that resemble what you’d find in America’s Rust Belt. The announcer says something along the lines of, “During his administration, President Bush created more than 3 million new jobs.” There’s a brief pause, and the announcer continues, “In China.” With that, the camera pans upward and pulls back to reveal huge signs over the factories, all in Chinese characters. The rest of the ad warns of the horrors of outsourcing and how Kerry will fight for US workers, whereas Bush caved in to big industry.
I find this unacceptable on more than one level. First, it creates anti-Chinese sentiments, positioning them as an enemy/threat. It also implies the president can easily “do something” about US jobs lost by outsourcing. And, possibly worst of all, it makes a relatively small issue appear ominous, playing on people’s fears. It’s populist politics at its most unattractive.
Outsourcing brings real benefits to most Americans, and when it comes to all the jobs lost it is not nearly as big a factor as the Kerry ad would have you believe. There are so few jobs out there because employers don’t want to hire when they’re still anxious and unsure about the economy. I know, that’s not much consolation to the poor factory worker whose job has been exported to Guangzhou. But that’s part of the price of free markets and globalization.
It really hurts me to write anything negative about Kerry, but I’m worried that if he doesn’t get more substantive he will appear phony and insincere. He’s also got to get more aggressive in dealing with the charge that he says whatver his latest audience wants to hear. Karl Rove is making the waffling charge the No. 1 issue, and so far Kerry has done a poor job countering it.
The China ad should be scrapped. With so many real issues out there, why they would make outsourced jobs to China a key issue is beyond me.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.