In an unprecedented effort to boost young Jewish voter turnout, a Jewish Democratic group is circulating an edgy, animated Internet video that relies on biting humor and, critics say, unfair anti-Republican stereotypes.
Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, says his group commissioned the satirical cartoon, “Bubbie Versus the GOP,” in order to reach the “Generation Y” crowd that tunes into politics through such humor-laden vehicles as Jon Stewart’s cable-news satire “The Daily Show” and the Web site “JibJab,” which shows animated political parodies set to folksongs.
However, the video, which features a Jewish grandmother cartoon “superhero” wielding an oversized purse, socking it to a council of nefarious-looking caricatures of GOP figures wearing monk-like garb, is provoking howls from Republicans and others, who claim that it crosses the line separating legitimate parody and hateful stereotyping.
The video arrives in a banner year for political invective.
Some Democrats have hailed Michael Moore’s documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which suggests that President Bush’s main motivations for launching wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were to protect the Saudi royal family and to increase oil company profits.
Meanwhile, Republicans at the highest levels have been lobbing what Democrats and some pundits feel are offensive, disrespectful comments designed to de-legitimize the Democratic presidential nominee. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others have suggested repeatedly that some criticisms of the Iraq war voiced by John Kerry lend aid and comfort to the enemy. High-ranking Bush backers have suggested that terrorists are working to get Kerry elected, and argued that the Democrat will leave the country vulnerable to future attacks. The Republican National Committee has acknowledged sending a mailing to voters in West Virginia and Arkansas literature, charging that “liberals” want to ban the Bible.
The new Democratic video drew sharp criticism in some circles.
The Jewish outreach coordinator for the Bush-Cheney campaign, Tennessee businessman Michael Lebovitz, called the video “disrespectful,” “disgusting” and full of “name-calling.” Asked to identify which parts of the video struck him as offensive, Lebovitz cited the short film in its entirety.
The video was also slammed by Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“Nothing is as vile, awful and disgusting, and hateful as the NJDC piece,” Brooks said. “The NJDC regretfully has taken politics to a new and disturbing new low.”
The Republicans gained an ally in Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman, who said the video “crosses the line of sensitivity” and “pits Jews against Christians” by presenting the GOP as a “star chamber court in religious garb.” He said he was “saddened and disappointed” that the NJDC had used “stereotypic forms” and “conspiracy theories” to appeal to the Jewish community. “We, who have suffered from conspiracy theories, should be against it,” he said.
Forman said the video’s critics should “lighten up.”
“This is why they have no ability to speak to the 18 to 30 crowd. This is political satire. This is humor,” he said.
Forman said that since launching the video, the first in a planned series of four, on Monday, his Web site’s traffic has exploded and he’s gotten many comments from people saying the video is “hysterically funny.”
In the video, which visually quotes from a pastiche of popular cartoon series such as “South Park” and “The Powerpuff Girls,” the Bubbie character breaks into a Transylvanian castlelike “GOP headquarters” to do battle with a host of Bush administration officials over issues such as Medicare, the Iraq war, Saudi support for terrorism and the Bush tax cuts. The piece’s portrayal of administration figures is not, shall we say, flattering. Presiding over a council of GOP elders is the hooded top political adviser, Karl Rove, who, while speaking at a lectern marked with a cross, declares in a sinister voice that “tomorrow we will declare victory over Iraq, the economy, health care, old people and the poor.”
Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice answer Bubbie’s questions about issues in ways that make them appear as ridiculous, craven buffoons. Senator Zell Miller, the Georgia Democrat who charged that Kerry would leave the U.S. military armed only with “spitballs,” is portrayed as the fire-breathing “Godzella.”
The video portrays Republican policy toward Israel as being beholden to evangelical Christians: A poster on the castle wall says, “Visit Israel After the Rapture!” It also uses the Republicans’ own remarks against them in withering ways. Cheney tries to stop Bubbie with the same expletive he used recently on the Senate floor to dismiss the questions of Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, while Bush family confidant and political adviser James Baker is seen enunciating a famous anti-Jewish profanity attributed to him while he was secretary of state during the first Bush administration. (Baker denies making the comment.)
Especially offensive to critics was this profanity and a scene where Cheney’s head rolls off, showing him to be a robot.
Echoing the popular caricature of the president, the video depicts Bush as an idiotic, childlike figure in boxer shorts who reads the book “My Pet Goat” as the action goes on around him.
Kicked by Bubbie’s bag back to Crawford, Texas, Bush exclaims: “Man, what does she have in that bag anyway?” Bubbie pulls out a voter registration card, yelling the video’s final word: “Vote!”
Republican critics of the video, including Lebovitz, declined to comment on controversial Republican attacks on Kerry launched by Bush and other high-ranking GOP officials. Lebovitz, the Bush-Cheney campaign’s Jewish outreach coordinator, said he had not seen the RNC pieces warning that liberals would ban the Bible.
Independent political analyst Stuart Rothenberg panned the video as sophomoric, describing it as “a caricature of a caricature” pitched at “the 11-year-old crowd.”
“It strikes me as a junior-high-school attempt to get attention,” he said. “I don’t think stuff like that energizes or moves voters.”
But a public relations executive who specializes in appealing to young voters, Eric Schmeltzer, said he thought the video would end up being circulated on the Internet. “The Republicans being ‘shocked, shocked’ that Jews can be funny are like cow towns being offended by the Mel Brooks movie ‘Blazing Saddles,’” Schmeltzer said.