Nebraska Democrats Get Cleverby Kyle Michaelis
Although somewhat amusing - guess what - I'm not a fan. While I'm sure those who put the ad together are very proud of themselves for being so clever and those (like myself) already inclined to mock Ricketts with comparisons to Lex Luthor and Richie Rich probably enjoyed it as well, I don't see it helping one iota towards securing Sen. Nelson's reelection. In fact, I'd suggest that it may needlessly open an opportunity for the Ricketts campaign and could blow-up in Nelson and the Democratic Party's face.
Hopefully, I'm being overly-caustious when I say that. This whole pattern of property tax avoidance on the part of Pete Ricketts is pretty damn pathetic. The six thousand dollars he doesn't want to pay - which goes directly to local schools and finally reflects what he paid for his house 7 years earlier, before recent improvements to the property - isn't going to elicit much sympathy from the average Nebraska home owner who's been paying the full value on his or her home plus inflation all that time.
But, let's face it - a lot of Nebraskans are pissed off about recent hikes in their property assessments. Lancaster County has seen a near-record number of appeals this year, and you know Pete Ricketts isn't alone in Douglas County either. By attacking Ricketts in the broad sense this ad entails - for not paying his 'fair share' - the Nebraska Democratic Party could be said to be attacking every home owner who's filed an appeal - not to mention a whole lot more who thought about it or would have done so if it weren't so much hassle.
For a party that has taken such a beating over the last few decades for being tax-happy, does that really seem like a smart idea?
That's my problem with the ad - more than just forsaking the moral high ground and precluding me from ever again condemning Ricketts' negative attacks without testing my internal hypocrisy detector - it also fails to target that which is truly objectionable about Ricketts' behavior: not the fact that he doesn't want to pay more taxes than he has to (a desire shared by most Nebraskans) but the pettiness of fighting a fair valuation while spending so extravagantly on his Senate campaign.
By being cute, the ad may well make more of an impression, but I'm not at all convinced it's going to be the impression that was desired.
I think the majority of readers who saw this ad probably found it mean-spirited and childish. Those who will find it clever are not likely to be the persuadable Independents and Republicans Ben Nelson needs and has so far demonstrated his ability to hold. Amongst these voters, in fact, I would contend that this ad is not only too unfocused to be effective but also might be vaguely insulting.
If played correctly, this could have been one of those festering wounds in the Ricketts campaign that lingered from here until November - inviting a steady flow of criticism for being a Dead-Beat Billionaire who continues to burn millions upon millions of dollars on this campaign but wouldn't pay a few thousand in reasonable taxes to support local education.
By going high-profile with this attack - seeking to turn a festering wound into a killing blow - I'm inclined to think the NDP has overplayed its hand. It might have even given Ricketts an angle whereby he can cast himself as the champion of lower taxes he'd love to be thought of as.
Ricketts has broken no law. He's taken advantage of his rights as a citizen and a taxpayer - one with enough financial resources at his disposal to defend himself as such. I just hope, for Nelson's sake and Nebraska's, that Ricketts isn't able to use that fact to establish his first real connection with voters. Otherwise, I fear the potential is here for this going-nowhere campaign to gain some actual traction, perhaps even building a semi-legitimate message relating his private battle to most Nebraskans' concerns about high taxes and government waste.
And, look....Nelson and his fellow Democrats (as Ricketts would repeat over and over again) just don't get it. "They think the government is entitled to our money - as much as they can get their hands on, without question."
Of course, the Nebraska Democratic Party has never sought my approval for its advertising, and that's probably for the best. I have no track record to back up my criticisms as legitimate. I've never claimed to have the stomach for campaigning, and I should be careful before suggesting that the vague ideals to which I grasp are going to win elections. More than that, I probably have a tendency to overthink things and to grossly overestimate the degree to which an average Nebraskan's response is likely to reflect my own.
Hopefully, my concerns here are ridiculous. Hopefully, voters like this sort of bold advertising and respond favorably to its use of humor - accepting it as funny rather than childish and mean-spirited. Hopefully, Ricketts is forced to pay his "fair share" of property taxes and never recovers from this embarrassing act of civic irresponsibility. But, I'm not willing to take these things for granted.
"Good for Me (not Thee)" - be it escalating how personal the attacks get in this race or even opening the door for Ricketts to establish his conservative credentials - I hope these gentle words of Seussian sarcasm do not prove prophetic in our political reality. It would, indeed, be a tragedy if that Cheshire grin planted on Ricketts' face in the above illustration ended up hiding the last laugh.