In this cunningly poetic ad, Bush fixates on jobs. It’s not rousing or damning of John Kerry. Instead, it aims to seduce, to win hearts rather than minds. It’s slick but muted—an oily but skillful persuasiveness lurks beneath its dry, matte shell.
The images in “21st Century” form a collage of everyday contentedness: As Bush, in voice-over, tells us how much he’s done to help small businesses, we get glimpses of well-scrubbed professionals in shirts and ties, bustling about their tidy offices; a welder, suited up for work, looking unaccountably glamorous as he sends sparks flying; a cheery worker flipping the sign on his place of business from CLOSED to OPEN; and a waitress meandering through a friendly café dappled with afternoon light. Even the score, a kind of hoedown-classical hymn, speaks of reassurance and confidence: It’s music-as-pudding—what Stephen Foster might have written had he been body-snatched by John Williams.
The Bush Café of “21st Century” is certainly cozy and inviting, a place where the threat of terrorism is never mentioned, though it’s always present. The message thrumming beneath the surface is that hard work can fend off any form of evil: “I’m optimistic about America because I believe in the people of America,” Bush asserts, a reassurance that if we permit him to stick around, everything will be all right.
This past winter, the liberal MoveOn organization started showing an ad called “Child’s Pay,” in which exhausted moppets toil at menial jobs to pay off the national debt, ballooned by Bush’s tax cut. The Bush Café, on the other hand, paints work in glimmering hues. This America is peopled with happy employees, the beneficiaries of good lighting and artfully homespun music, clearly enjoying their low-paying service jobs. Who wouldn’t want to be them? Better yet, who wouldn’t want such cheerful people around to pour our coffee for us every day? In the vision of “21st Century,” it really is morning in America. Some people just have to get up earlier than others.