Print options

October 14, 2010

US Campaign Attack Ads Take Aim at China

by Laurel Bowman

The balance of power in both Houses of the U.S. Congress is at stake in the 2010 midterm elections.  And President Barack Obama's policy agenda lies in wait.  Meantime, a perceived villian has emerged in many political races - China.

In political ads across the nation, Democrats and Republicans alike are bashing their opponents for allegedly helping China, criticizing them for supporting free trade with that country and pushing tax cuts for companies doing business there.

"Job Killer Pat Toomey.  Maybe he ought to run for Senate in China."

The heat is on as November 2 Congressional elections fast approach.  Polls show that voters' most pressing concerns this year are not wars abroad, but a poor economy and lack of jobs at home.

Evan Tracey tracks political advertising for the non-partisan Campaign Media Analysis Group. "China is a good villain because they are perceived as an economy on the come (moving up).  They are perceived in some ways as a threat to United States dominance in economics. It is the notion that China is coming for your job.  Or that China is taking your tax money.  That is really the idea here that candidates are putting forth in these ads," he said.

"Gibbs wants more free trade with China to improve their standard of living.  But what about Ohio?"

Ohio Democrat Zack Space says that his opponent's general support of free trade is sending jobs to China.

"91,000 jobs.  As they say in China, 'Xie Xie (Thanks) Mr. Gibbs!'"

A range of scholars and economists agree that the claims in many of these ads are exaggerated, at best.  Dan Griswold of the CATO Institute research group says globalization is here to stay and that Americans, including politicians, should embrace that.

"We are today a middle class service economy. Eighty percent of Americans work in the service sector and that is the natural trend of development of every industrialized rich country. We need to adjust our policies to that pleasant reality," he said.

Griswold and others say that means being honest with American voters and workers.  They insist low-end manufacturing jobs outsourced to China aren't likely coming back. "I think a politician who tries to blame China for America's economic problems is not being honest with the constituents that he or she wants to represent," he said.

But the facts, says Tracey and other analysts, are in the very fine print. "In politics, context is the job of the other campaign.  In other words, your campaign's goal is to tell your version of the facts so did jobs get shipped to China because of tax breaks?  Yes.  Do stimulus dollars end up in Chinese companies' hands?  Absolutely," he said.

In short, it's up to the American voter to find out what's true and what's truly exaggerated.  And in the weeks ahead, voters have their work cut out for them.  There are hundreds of ads now airing that portray China as the bad guy.