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Defeat Bush? A 30-Second Solution

By's Jarrett Murphy

In Charlie Fisher's ad, children wash dishes. They pick up trash. Tired-looking children stand watch over an assembly line. They fix tires and ring up groceries.

And they do it, the ad suggests, to pay off the deficit that has swelled since President Bush took office.

The ad that won's "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest was not about the war in Iraq or the PATRIOT Act — two issues that have fueled the liberal group's rise and enraged its membership.

Instead, the more than 100,000 who voted on line, as well as a panel of celebrity judges, picked "Child's Pay" by Fisher, a Denver ad executive.

Fisher's quiet yet slick spot, which depicts children toiling at jobs many adults would avoid — just to pay off the federal deficit — will air during the week of the president's State of the Union address, say MoveOn organizers.

The group may also try to run the spot during the Superbowl; if they succeed, it will be the first political ad to accompany the NFL championship, MoveOn says.

More important than when it airs may be that the ad tries to solve a challenge facing MoveOn: How to appeal to a wide audience of voters while still capturing their members' deep resentment of the president's policies.

That resentment was on full display Monday during MoveOn's awards extravaganza at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom, from comedian Margaret Cho lambasting the "Repugnant National Committee" to Public Enemy front-man Chuck D suggesting the U.S. government had become a "cancer on civilization."

The musician Moby, one of the organizers of the ad contest, performed Radiohead's "Creep" as a song Mr. Bush might sing to himself ("I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here?" it goes.) Rufus Wainwright sounded a softer note with the Leonard Cohen hymn "Hallelujah," which warns that, "Love is not a victory march."

"President Bush has a problem with the truth," said MoveOn campaign coordinator Eli Pariser. "The problem is simple: Bush's policies are terrible for our country and the world."

To solve the problem, Pariser said, Mr. Bush "has put into place the largest spin and misinformation campaign in our history."

The ads meant to combat that alleged disinformation ranged from deadly serious to slapstick.

In Rich Garella and Adam Feinstein's "Polygraph," Mr. Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech, with its allegations against Iraq, fails a lie detector test. "Americans," the ad says, "are dying for the truth."

In "Hood Robbin'," by Nathania Vishnevsky, a green-tights-wearing president steals from children and the elderly and hands the booty to his corporate cronies at Megacorp.

Among all the ads, however, both the winner and runner-up featured children as themes. The second-place entry, "What are we teaching our children?" features cute kids saying the terrible things they would do if they were president; all of the proposals are references to perceived flaws in Mr. Bush's policies.

"Maybe that's the key to this administration's policy, that they hate children," master of ceremonies Janeane Garofalo joked, "so they saddle them with debt and make them breathe dirty air."

Or, maybe the key to the win by "Child's Pay" was its tone. Fisher says when he finished editing the ad, "I felt it was nice — maybe a little too nice. Perhaps I've learned that you don't have to paint a bulls-eye on someone's forehead to be effective."

Whether the spot will be effective outside the Hammerstein Ballroom depends on its ability to move non-MoveOn members.

The group itself has a fairly diverse following. A Gore campaign veteran and law school student was directing people to the coat check at the Hammerstein. War-march veterans worked alongside recent college grads who were attending their first MoveOn event. A longhaired Wesley Clark campaign volunteer was on hand, as were people who'd shelled out $150 for their seats.

Whether that's diverse enough to win a national election is unclear. For some in the crowd, even a gathering of the like-minded was welcome. War opponents often describe a feeling of isolation in the face of popular support for the Iraq invasion.

"The first step is actually getting us to talk to each other," Patricia Vattuone, an academic and mother of four, "to think about what's an effective way to reach out to others."

Even if MoveOn can appeal to a wide section of Americans, the group might face criticism over how it does so.

Last week, Republicans accused MoveOn of crossing the line by accepting ads that drew parallels between the Bush administration and the Nazis. The ads were but two of the 1,500 that had been submitted to the contest, were not finalists, and were soon removed from the Web site.

Cho, whose irreverent opening monologue allowed the interpreter for the deaf to demonstrate the sign-language rendition of the F-word more than once, said the Republicans were "looking for Hitler in a haystack."

George Bush isn't Hitler, Cho deadpanned, but "he would be if he applied himself."

Campaign finance watchdogs, meanwhile, are worried that MoveOn is one of a number of groups that will funnel massive political spending that undermines the McCain-Feingold reforms. Billionaire George Soros, for one, is reported to have pledged millions to MoveOn — much more than he could have given to any candidate.

MoveOn seems aware of the potential for trouble.

One ad that was a finalist, "Three Strikes and You're Out," was pulled from competition because the phrase "you're out" might suggest voters should throw the president out of office.

None of the other ads make such an explicit suggestion, and the ad might have been considered a form of electioneering prohibited by federal law, its creator said.

"I kind of wish I'd picked another line," said the creator, Kia Simon, of Oakland, Calif.

By Jarrett Murphy

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