The NRA's New Ad

01.16.13 12:15 PM ET

The NRA’s new ad is beyond anything we’ve seen, in political propaganda terms, in the modern history of this country. The text goes as follows:

Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.

Let’s start with the ad’s broken logic. A, the Obama family has Secret Service protection; B, other American families do not; C, because of this, Obama is an elitist and a hypocrite. It’s pretty ludicrous. Malia and Sasha Obama get lots of things because their father won the presidency. They also have a chauffeur; get to ride on a big fancy airplane free of charge and don’t have to endure any TSA-related indignities; live in a beautiful big house rent-free; and so on. By the ad’s logic, all of these are instances of hypocrisy.

And yet, for pretty much all of modern history until this ad was unveiled yesterday, I don’t remember anyone begrudging presidential children their right to the perquisites that come with being the president’s children. People on the right made fun of Amy Carter’s and Chelsea Clinton’s physical appearance in tasteless ways. People on the left made fun of the Bush girls’ zest for margaritas and what have you.

But this is a step, or three, beyond that. It’s designed to make people who despise the president despise him even more; and it’s designed to make them despise his children, 14 and 11 years old, because they live a cosseted life that you and your kids don’t; they are ergo elitist hypocrites just like their father.

It’s not even the logic, though, that’s most disturbing. The main thing here is what’s between the lines; the hot buttons in the pro-gun amygdala the ad is designed to push. Just mentioning the president’s daughters in an ad full of violent imagery and sounds—silhouettes of assault rifles, profiles of heavily armed soldiers, martial music—is an invitation to certain viewers to make certain mental connections. I’ll stop there. But it’s really a shocking thing.

It is true that a couple recent polls have shown majorities backing the NRA position about putting armed guards in schools, which Obama opposes. This is the point of the ad. That’s a point that could have been made in any number of ways. But the NRA decided to make it in this particular way. Imagine: A group of people tossed this idea around, kicked its tires, so to speak; someone wrote a script; someone chose the images; someone chose the music; someone in authority said yes, let’s do this, let’s drag the president’s daughters into it.

And remember—this debate is really just starting in earnest today, as the president unveils his proposals. What will the group prove itself capable of if its back is really up against the wall?