Dead People as Political Props

Posted: July 16, 2006 in 2006 Elections

Photo from the Missouri Civil War Museum.

This topic is brought up because of the recent Republican uproar over an ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee which used an image of a flag draped caskets of soldiers killed in Iraq. You can view the ad here.

I personally don’t believe in using any images of dead in ads for any political purpose because they have no way of speaking out for themselves. If I were a media consultant for a candidate or campaign, I wouldn’t touch the dead or their relatives in any of my ads with a proverbial twenty foot pole. In my view it cheapens the discourse by trying to shamelessly and overtly exploit someone else’s tragedy to score political points.

Unfortunately, the DCCC ad is hardly the first, and only use of dead people for a political statement, by the Republicans or the Democrats in this election cycle or previous ones.

Republican Senator Mike DeWine’s re-eelection campaign recently made an ad attacking his opponent Sherrod Brown’s national security credentials. The ad uses an image of a burning World Trade Center on 9/11. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find the ad online, so I can only link to this article from the Columbus Dispatch.

In 2004, President Bush’s first re-election ad briefly showed images of the World Trade Center rubble a flag-covered body being moved from Ground Zero.

Fast forward a few months later, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry obtained the endorsement of “the Jersey Girls,” four 9/11 widows who lobbied for the creation of the 9/11 Commission and reforms of the intelligence and homeland security community, and immediately put one of them in an ad and had them hit the campaign trail for him. I can’t find the ad online, so you’ll have to settle with the written account from Fox News that I linked to.

At the same time, Progress for America, a conservative 527 group, did this emotionally wrenching ad of President Bush’s meeting with a little girl from Ohio whose mother was killed in the World Trade Center. According to Fox News, this was the biggest single political ad buy in history, worth $17 million.

But you have to go waaaaay back to the 1944 presidential election campaign, in the middle of World War II, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had “I Remember Pearl Harbor” buttons made for his re-election campaign for a fourth term. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any images of the buttons themselves online, only written references to them. If I do find it later, I will update this posting to include a link or image.

Neither party can or should claim a higher sense of morality or outrage for using images of dead people or their families for political purposes. As far as I can tell they are both equally shameless and opportunistic on this subject.

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