Monday, November 19

Tancrazy Train: Terror Trailer Tanks

Scene 1. A gloved hand furtively jams a bomb into a backpack.

Cut to a crowded mall. Camera follows a man in a hooded sweatshirt and backpack as he slinks through the mall, past children and shoppers.

Transition to a fast-paced montage of shocking stills from terrorist attacks in Spain, England and Russia. Throw in a gory image of a bloodied-up kid being hauled away from the scene of a disaster. Tension builds.

Back to the mall. The hooded man stashes the backpack beneath a bench, then disappears.

Screen fades to black. Seconds later: a crashing explosion. Then, silence.

Sound like the makings of a blockbuster? Add Colin Farrell, a sexy female informant and a wisecracking minority sidekick, and it could be the latest bro-dude action flick to go straight to DVD.

Fortunately, this cinematic gem is playing only on YouTube, Tom Tancredo’s Web site and select cable channels in Iowa. Tancredo, the Colorado representative/Republican presidential candidate, unleashed his new campaign ad on TV and radio stations here this week, prompting waves of criticism that have radiated far outside Iowa’s borders.

In the TV spot, the footage described above rolls, as a grave narrator intones, “There are consequences to open borders beyond the 20 million aliens who have come to take our jobs. Islamic terrorists now freely roam U.S. soil, jihadists who froth with hate, here to do as they have in London, Spain, Russia. The price we pay for spineless politicians who refuse to defend our borders against those who come to kill.”

Not only does Tancredo offend both Muslims and Latinos with his bizarre fuzzing of the line between Islamic extremists and undocumented immigrants, he also blatantly ignores the fact that the 9/11 attacks — along with every other major act of terror in U.S. history (Oklahoma City, the Unabomber, etc.) — were perpetrated by either homegrown wackos or wackos who entered the country legally.

The ad’s limited release hasn’t stopped it from garnering substantial attention. So far, critics haven’t taken kindly to Tancredo’s newfound affinity for cinema.

“[It is the] most demagogic political ad of the 2008 race,” opined Carol Hunter, editorial page editor of the Des Moines Register. “It offers no leadership. It’s all about fear,”

“[It is] an incredibly fear-based kind of advertisement that some might say is trying to terrorize people into supporting his view,” Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford told the LA Times.

New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson detected some “very ugly undertones,” while the Denver Post editorial board said the ad “smacks of desperation” from a man whose “bully pulpit is about to collapse.”

And from University of Iowa communications prof Bruce Gronbeck, via the Rocky Mountain News: “This is just blatant, raw fear images, and they’ve never worked in the United States, period.”

Most news watchers believe the ad isn’t likely to emigrate out of Iowa, except, perhaps, to New Hampshire. Tancredo’s campaign isn’t exactly swimming in green, and Tancredo has told reporters he’ll pack it up if he doesn’t make at least third place in the Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary.

Despite the nearly universal rejection of what his campaign is calling the “Tough on Terror” ad, Tancredo, yet again, has managed to elicit the type of media response upon which he feeds. Now that he has announced he’s not running for reelection to Congress, and his presidential aspirations could be toast by early January, the man has nothing to lose. He can pull out all the stops and make himself as visible as possible, with virtually no repercussion, before exiting public office.

The question then becomes, how much more of the same will we be subjected to before Tancredo fades off of the public salary rolls and into rightwing radio shows and Minuteman discussion boards? If the past is any guide, this isn’t the last attention tantrum he’ll throw before his 15 minutes of fame are up.

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