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Political ads during Olympics? Bush waved Iraqi, Afghan flags

July 28, 2012|By James Rainey
  • HO, Associated Press
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For American fans watching on television, the Olympic Games mark an escape from workaday cares and annoyances — like political advertising.

That isn't stopping President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney from trying to score a few friendly political points with pitches during the games — Obama during the opening ceremonies with a nonpartisan ode to the American work ethic and a pro-Romney "super PAC" launching spots about his winning tenure as head of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

The ads all will pale in ideological fervor compared to a 2004 spot in which George W. Bush’s reelection campaign used the Olympics to trumpet the president’s democracy drive in the Mideast.  That ad ticked off Olympic officials, who said it violated their exclusive right to the Olympics name.

But first a look at the Obama ad that came with the Olympic kickoff. It has the president making the case for exceptional Americans, even as critics like to deride him as not a fan of American exceptionalism — the idea that the country has a special position in the world community to maintain and promote liberty.

The Obama ad departs from the hard-edged attacks on Romney of recent weeks. It shows working people taking care of business — rising early, toiling in farm fields and in hard hats. A crowd cheers Obama on the stump as he talks about the American work ethic.

"We're a nation of workers and doers and dreamers. We work hard for what we get,” Obama says. “And all we ask for is that our hard work pays off. I believe that the way you grow the economy is from the middle out. That's the idea of America and that's why America's the greatest nation on Earth."

Strategy: Pump up hard-working Americans getting ready to enjoy watching hard-working U.S. athletes kick some tail. You can almost hear the follow-up ads — and “USA! USA!” chants -- now.

While generic image-building seems to be the goal of the 2012 political ads, Bush’s reelection spot had a much more specific agenda — defending the controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 2004 ads showed a swimmer and the flags of the two Muslim nations.

“In 1972, there were 40 democracies in the world. Today, 120,” the announcer declared. “And this Olympics there will be two more free nations. And two fewer terrorist regimes.”

Opponents of the wars certainly would argue those conclusions. But Olympic officials didn’t object to  the content; they protested that federal law gave them the exclusive right to the name. Bush aides countered that the law was designed only to protect “Olympics” for the sale of goods and services and to promote athletic competition. They said political speech could not be curtailed and continued to run the ad.

A similar controversy arose this week when a pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, released an ad slamming Romney, with the aid of some Olympic trappings. Both U.S. and international Olympic officials expressed displeasure. The group quickly agreed to toss the ad.

james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey

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