Last week a group I founded, Americans for Shared Prosperity, produced and released an ad that unleashed a storm of controversy. The story is one of a young woman lamenting the broken promises of a man in whom she had invested her hope and idealism. She shares why she fell for him, and then how her faith in him turned to disappointment.
Towards the end it becomes clear to the viewer that the man is President Obama. It is remarkable that given the millions of dollars being spent on hundreds of ads being aired across the country this fall, that this one — which aired only once — would have ignited such strong emotions on both sides of the political spectrum. Especially since this ad neither endorses or criticizes a party, candidate or policy position.
Some praised the ad as a subtle political statement while others deemed it sexist (and worse). The fact is that those who wrote in praise of the ad as well as its detractors did not touch on the real point, or the purpose of its creation. I will get back to that in a bit; but first a little backstory. In selecting a context, my coauthor and I wanted to choose a cultural phenomenon that is apolitical by nature.
The choice was an easy one as there is nothing more 2014 than online dating. You don’t have to be single to have seen countless commercials for eHarmony, Match.com, FarmersOnly.com, or heard of Tinder and other dating apps. Moreover, most Americans have a friend or relative that has met a friend, spouse or significant other online, or know the pitfalls of becoming emotionally invested in someone who presents themself one way on an app or website and turns out to be something else entirely.
The fact is that millions of Americans in 2008 did become emotionally invested in President Obama, the first Internet president, perhaps moreso than any president before. It is equally true that America is disappointed in where the country is today. A Gallup poll released on September 24 graphically illustrates how unhappy America is with its leaders: 47 percent of Democrats favor the creation of a third party alternative, while 46 percent of Republicans feel the same way. This is a long way from the halcyon days of 2009 when most Americans, including millions of independents and Republicans believed that hope and positive change were upon us.
The source of America’s disappointment is the inability of our political leaders to address the issues that concern all Americans. Specifically, the economy, jobs, economic opportunity, and now our security. However, in a democracy it is we the people that must lead, and politicians will follow. Unfortunately, the ruling elites in Washington have successfully divided us against each other by dividing us into interest groups and pandering to issues that are specific to various groups of voters bringing out the worst in all of us. It is true that there are many different types of Americans; female Americans, male Americans, Latino Americans and African Americans and many others and each has its own unique history and issues; many having important public policy implications. What is missing, and what we must correct if we are to have the type of country we hoped for in 2008 is the sense that regardless of the adjective preceding the word ‘American’ we are all Americans and in this together.
The purpose of ‘Dating Profile’ was to expose by way of satire this toxic political tactic of divide and conquer. While in this instance the reference is to the ‘War on Women’ theme on which many tens of millions of dollars are being spent, this tactic is as old as history itself and has been practiced by Republicans and Democrats alike. My hope is that ‘Dating Profile’ exposes this cynical tactic and that we will hold politicians accountable for what they say and the commercials they run. After all, we are all unhappy with Washington and we are all Americans. We will not solve our country’s problems until we say in one voice, “Enough” and force Washington to focus on the issues that affect us all.