WASHINGTON — "I remember yoooo," croons a singer as a black-and-white picture of former President Jimmy Carter flashes on the screen, his face grim and lined.
In quick succession, the image of the last Democratic President is sandwiched among the smug, overfed visages of Arab oil sheiks; an empty gas pump; unemployment lines, and--beneath the word "inflation"--the gaping jaws of a shark gobbling up a dollar bill.
"You're the one who made me feel so blue," goes the song. "It's troooo. It's yoooo."
Neither subtle nor venomous, this 30-second commercial is one of three television ads the Republican National Committee has begun airing across the country to emphasize a message that party strategists fear may not be penetrating very deeply into the public consciousness as the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis gathers momentum and Vice President George Bush remains in pre-convention low-gear.
The message, as the ads put it, is that America has enjoyed "seven years of jobs, peace and economic growth--brought to you by the Republicans." The commercials make no reference to Democratic contentions that the Reagan years have been marked by high budget deficits and reduced social programs.
To Air in Every State
According to RNC officials, the three ads began airing on Monday and are to be broadcast in every state, continuing until about a week before the Republican National Convention opens in New Orleans on Aug. 15.
In a reflection of the federal government's complex campaign financing laws, the three commercials do not mention Bush, the Republican nominee-apparent, nor any other candidate. They are, as a videotape made available by the RNC notes, "generic" political ads, designed to promote the party as a whole.
Therefore, while helping to fill the awkward, month-long interregnum between the two national conventions, the ads will not further push Bush against a $27-million federal ceiling on primary campaign spending. That limit will not disappear until the end of the New Orleans convention on Aug. 19, at which point the nominee inherits a $46-million windfall in federal funds for the general election campaign.
In the meantime, the spending limit has forced Bush to curtail his schedule, limiting his appearances largely to party fund-raising events, the costs of which are not counted against the ceiling. The Democratic Party, now past its convention and the related funding restraints, has begun moving into high gear, giving Dukakis and running mate Lloyd Bentsen a head start on seizing the initiative.
A Republican committee official, who asked not to be named, said the content of the three ads was dictated by opinion surveys suggesting that the message of peace and prosperity Republicans have been trying to put across for a year now "was not penetrating" the public mind, which is increasingly concerned about rising inflation.
"We're talking about a solid and growing economy, 16 million new jobs, a country at peace, all the result of (President) Reagan's policies," the official said. "But people see inflation going up half a percentage point, and they're forgetting how bad things were seven years ago."
Created by Sig Rogich of R&R Advertising, and overseen by Bush media adviser Roger Ailes, two of the three ads feature scenes of happy workers and trim, prosperous middle-class neighborhoods suffused with sunshine. Only two blacks, a seemingly successful professional couple, make an appearance. A mellifluous narration stresses that the past seven years have been "the longest period of peacetime economic growth, without recession, in our history."
In one, as the camera zooms in on a sweet, blonde, blue-eyed little girl sipping lemonade and coloring on the front porch of her immaculate Victorian-style home, a woman's soft voice notes that this "very fortunate little girl" has "never known an America plagued by inflation."
"Why then would we want to go back to the way things were before she was born?" the narrator asks. "And risk anything as precious as her future?"
The ad most likely to stick in mind, however, was the one a Republican National Committee official said was the most "delicate" to produce, evoking images of Carter, gas lines, unemployment and high inflation. The aim, she said, was to remind Americans of the economic and foreign policy instability Republicans would like to pin on Carter without arousing sympathy for the former President with an overdose of negativism or venom.
Black and white pictures were chosen over color, she said, to emphasize both a mood of bleakness and the idea that the time of troubles under a Democratic President occurred a decade ago.
An old familiar song reinforces the sense of distant past, and leavens the gloom with a dash of irony: "Tell them you re-mem-ber," go the lyrics. "Tell them you remember, toooo."