Anti-Obama billboards could be harmful to the GOP’s health
posted at 1:12 pm on August 31, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
Thursday’s acceptance speech by Mitt Romney made it official. Romney is now the GOP candidate for president heading into the 2012 election and, as many are now praying fervently, will go on to become the 45th president of the United States. According to the Real Clear Politics average released on Friday, the answer to that prayer is now in hailing distance. Obama’s lead over the GOP hopeful is 0.5%—the smallest its been so far in the election.
Polls are, of course, fickle. The bump reflected in the RCP average is likely to diminish, and the DNC is equally likely to give the Obama-Biden ticket a slight uptick, especially with Democrat idol Bill Clinton taking Joe Biden’s spot in the roster of speeches.
One of the states that is firmly in the Democrats’ column is Massachusetts. Why, therefore, should it matter in the least that a local resident of the sleepy town of Hanson (pop. 10,209) has erected a couple of anti-Obama billboards that many will find distasteful? First, because Barack Obama—despite having once decried the unfortunate tendency of politicians to “make a big election about small things”—has made the exclusive focus of the current election minutiae. His campaign has ridiculed Mitt Romney for everything from strapping a crate containing the family dog to the roof of his car to his wife’s owning a horse that competed in the Olympics. His handlers are certain to point to the billboards as evidence of the “sort of people who want to regain control of the nation’s leadership.”
Second, the mainstream media has already smelled blood in the water. On Thursday CBS Boston ran the first of what are certain to be many TV stories on the billboards, one of which features a young child flipping Obama the bird. (The second shows a picture of Obama and is captioned “Somewhere in Kenya a village is missing its idiot.”)
The billboards are likely to breathe new life into the specious argument that Obama has been subject to more mean-spirited attacks by his critics than any previous president. The illogical conclusions to be drawn—that he deserves a second term because people were mean to him or that all of this is rooted in racism—will be left to voters, many of whom sadly will take the bait.
One legitimate criticism that has been raised is wholly independent of the intent of the ads. It is to the billboard showing a child making an obscene gesture, which many (including this writer) find exploitative.
Some residents of Hanson have asked Robert Sullivan, who is responsible for the signs, to take them down. One resident told news radio station WBZ “It’s being offensive. I think you can send out the message without being this drastic.” Sullivan’s attorney has countered that the signs are protected under his client’s First Amendment’s rights.
That is true. But the fact that the Constitution protects peoples’ right to say what they want doesn’t mean that they should. Bear in mind that the Supreme Court found the actions and words of the Westboro Baptist Church are covered by the group’s free speech rights.
The Hanson story is one of many that are circulating around the web. Another news video about a billboard near Dallas was posted to YouTube last week. Unlike the others, the Hanson story seems to have legs. If Robert Sullivan is really earnest about seeing Obama ousted from office, he might want to think seriously about removing the billboards.
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