Critique: Clinton’s ‘Invisible’ Touch

NEW YORK It’s a four-month sprint to the Iowa caucuses and Sen. Hillary Clinton has launched her “first” ad of the campaign, now running on her Web site and on TV in Iowa. Called “Invisible,” the not-so-invisible attack on President Bush is a new-fangled negative ad that somehow comes off as positive—half “Morning in America”/half “Man from Hope,” with a little FDR thrown in for good measure. It’s also the most presidential ad to come down the pike so far.

Open on Clinton walking in a field with an elderly gentleman in a cowboy hat, aviator sunglasses, plaid shirt and jeans (the ghost of Ronald Reagan?). The music soars and so does her voiceover, which is from an actual political speech she gave, images of which are interspersed with her speaking to a group of farmers, playing with a baby, reading to pre-schoolers, hugging a returning soldier: “As I travel around America, I hear from so many people who feel like they’re just invisible to their government.” There seems to be a little reverberation in her voice, like the famous FDR “nothing to fear but fear itself.” “If you’re a family who’s struggling without healthcare,” she continues, “if you’re a single mom trying to find childcare and I never thought I’d say this, but if you’re a returning soldier from Iraq or Afghanistan, you may be invisible to this president, but you’re not invisible to me.”

The spot is amazingly artful in hammering away at Bush without mentioning him by name. Instead, she keeps saying, “this president” and ends with, “They won’t be invisible to the next president of the United States.” This suggests you get her as the next president, but there’s always room for Bill, whose name remains unspoken.

This great ad is part and parcel of the way Clinton has run her campaign, which is consistently disciplined and on message. From the debates to her quips, she seems self-confident and in charge, not brittle or shrill.

There’s been a slow evolution in Clinton’s world, where people who were haters are slowly coming to see her in a different light. Her ad uses all the standard, old-fashioned political ad tactics (walking and talking in Iowa, giving stump speeches), but because she’s a woman running for president, it comes off as new.

There’s an almost subliminal suggestion that just as she runs a campaign, she’ll run the country. It’s calm, clear and, to repeat the not-so-subtle theme, very presidential.