Do Coronavirus Campaign Ads Go Too Far?

Presidential candidates in the 2020 presidential race are beginning to release campaign advertisements surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19); capitalizing on the opportunity to show their own leadership as well as highlight perceived failures in their opponent’s leadership. As the United States grapples with the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, regularly scheduled life for nearly all Americans has been disrupted for the foreseeable future. As millions of school-aged American children experience extended school closures, and adults across America struggle with what is hopefully temporary job displacement, candidates Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump have all released advertisements and short videos concerning the government’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19) prompting some critics to ask whether or not blatantly politicizing the global pandemic is morally responsible or acceptable. 

In what should arguably be a nonpartisan issue, the rapid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has triggered dramatic response from politicians on both sides of the political spectrum. Social media is brimming with both citizens and elected officials alike espousing divisive rhetoric that has turned the global pandemic into a political firestorm for the ages. Biden, Sanders and Trump have all released content that seizes on the immediacy of the issue as well as taking the opportunity to push their respective narratives on the response of the government on the coronavirus. While the world seemingly grinds to a halt in an attempt to control the spread of the pandemic, not even the coronavirus can stop the 2020 Presidential race from marching on.

Trump vs Dems

The most recent Coronavirus-related advertisement; Democrats: Placing Politics Over People”, was released on March 24 by the Trump campaign. The advertisement takes aim at House and Senate democrats’ efforts to pack a COVID-19 Relief Stimulus Bill with progressive goals that some argue are not directly related to aiding Americans in the face of coronavirus. The advertisement begins with a subdued President Trump declaring that America is “at war with an invisible enemy”, and then transitions to clips of various news outlets reporting on several legislative goals of Democrats within the coronavirus stimulus package. 

The advertisement aims to shift recent criticism of the Trump administration to appropriately deal with the COVID-19 pandemic by centering focus on Democrats for having ulterior motives in their proposed relief bill. The advertisement ends with an assertive slam on congressional Democrats; “Democrats: Placing politics over people”

 

Joe vs Trump

In an advertisement released by the Biden campaign entitled Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump on the Corona Virus Response, Joe Biden contrasts responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) he made during the televised March 15th debate against Democratic rival Bernie Sanders against a recent press conference of the Coronavirus Task Force during which President Trump made headlines by rebuking NBC News reporter Peter Alexander for asking a question that President Trump categorized as “sensationalism”. The objective behind Biden’s advertisement is to demonstrate his style of leadership as a stark contrast of President Trump’s.

Biden’s apparent strategy in this advertisement is to portray President Trump as an ineffective leader, unable to respond to basic questions or show the ability to unify the nation during a worldwide crisis. 

The advertisement ends with the Biden campaign asserting that this type of crisis must be met with the leadership of a president, and in November, Americans can elect just that Joe Biden, asserting that Donald Trump is not an acceptable or legitimate President in dealing with COVID-19.

 

Bernie vs Corporations

The Bernie Sanders campaign, although nearly vanquished of the momentum they began the primary season with, and falling further and further behind in delegate numbers, is still pushing onward. Bernie Sanders released two short videos on his YouTube channel responding to two different aspects of the Coronavirus response. 

In his first video, Bail Out Workers, Not CEOs , Sanders references the initial draft of the COVID-19 stimulus relief package that was shot down by Democrats. Though Sanders does not take aim at President Trump specifically in his first video, he subtlety refers to Republican leadership for providing funding to bail out large corporations without limits or restrictions for how the money will be utilized.  Senator Sanders has a long history of taking on large corporations and his perceived abuses of working-class Americans by those corporate entities, and urges Congress to pass a bill that directly assists working-class Americans over, or at least before, corporate America.

In his second release, President Trump Must Utilize the Defense Production Act,  Sanders sends a more direct message to President Trump.

 

In this advertisement, Senator Sanders comments on the lack of personal protective gear that hospital staff and first responders have in facing the COVID-19 pandemic in hospitals, and seemingly places the blame on President Trump for resisting to use the Defense Production Act to meet those needs. President Trump has thus far preferred the states to build their own supply chain rather than the federal government nationalizing production. 

 

The basic strategy behind all of the candidates’ advertisements is similar; shift blame and guilt for misplaced and misguided responses to the Coronavirus. The goal for all three campaigns is to convince Americans that there are two vastly different approaches for dealing with the global pandemic and that one is good for Americans, and one is bad. Advertisements are extremely effective in shaping peoples’ perceptions of events and individuals, and tend to play to the basic human emotions that elicit the strongest responses; fear and anger. The underlying objective for both advertisements is to anger viewers at a particular person or party for their actions or inactions during these unprecedented times. The question becomes whether or not it is morally acceptable to politicize an issue of this magnitude. Politicians have politicized tragedies for as long as there have been, well, politicians and tragedies. From natural disasters to mass shootings, no topic is seemingly beyond the reach of politicians making political statements about them. The Coronavirus pandemic seems different. This event is unlike issues such as gun violence as the COVID-19 outbreak is a global crisis. If there was ever a time for the nation, maybe even the entire world to unite on an issue, one would think this crisis would qualify. Perhaps not; climate change has a “global quality” to it, yet there is plenty of political division over that issue. Should the 2020 Presidential candidates shy away from taking the opportunity to score points by leveraging the Coronavirus in their advertisements? Should they resist the “low hanging fruit” and avoid criticizing their rivals over their responses in forms of mass media? Is this issue “too far” when it comes to political ads? I would love to hear your response in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading. Stay healthy!

 

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