- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is hoping to ramp up the party’s identity with a little grass-roots charm.

The organization is asking creatively inclined Democrats to submit homemade, 60-second campaign videos that either laud Sen. John Kerry or illustrate “a new direction for America.” The winner will be showcased at the Democratic National Convention in July.

A centerpiece of the DNC’s new “American Made Convention,” the cozy outreach might not be as innocent as it sounds.

“It brings up some bad memories. This sounds like what MoveOn did earlier this year,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Heather Layman said yesterday.

In January, California-based MoveOn, a left-leaning activist group, sponsored “Bush in 30 Seconds,” a similar contest for amateurs, which ultimately yielded a pair of videos comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler — both posted on the group’s Web site (www.moveon. org).

“We really hope that the DNC exercises better judgement than MoveOn. Putting videos online which compared Mr. Bush with Hitler kind of backfired for them,” Miss Layman said. “We really hope the DNC has some clear parameters here.”

The two spots in question featured images of Hitler, with one offering the motto, “What were war crimes in 1945 is foreign policy in 2004.” The videos irked Republicans as well as the Jewish Defense League.

The Democrats might have some new inspiration for similar tactics. In April, former MoveOn official Zack Exley became a communications director for Mr. Kerry’s presidential campaign.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Mr. Exley made a name for himself by creating a parody Web site that mocked Mr. Bush with doctored photographs and insulting bumper stickers. He later worked briefly on Howard Dean’s bid for the White House.

But the DNC insists its video contest is all about Democratic exuberance, not potential Bush-bashing.

“Right now, there’s a lot of energy and creativity at the grass-roots level. We want to tap into it,” DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera said yesterday. “This is one way of giving Democrats the opportunity to express the enthusiasm they feel for John Kerry and the drive for removing George Bush from the White House.”

Will the ads be tasteful?

Mr. Cabrera would not predict anything.

“We’re keeping an open mind,” he said.

Would-be producers have until July 12 to submit their entries, which will be judged by CNN “Crossfire” host Paul Begala. The final five entries will be posted on the DNC Web site (www.democrats.org), and the ultimate winner will be determined by popular vote.

“This is your chance to show your work to a live audience of thousands and to possibly millions more watching on television and over the Internet,” the DNC advised hopefuls. “It’s a chance for you to tell Americans why this country needs a change in leadership and why John Kerry is the right man for the job — in your own way.”

Meanwhile, some have followed edgy Democratic campaign strategies with increasing alarm. The National’s Review’s Byron York thinks the Bush/Hitler comparisons “represent a growing phenomenon on the left,” warning that radical stuff can seep into the political mainstream.

“Bush-hating, already intense in some circles, could well become a growth industry in the coming year,” Mr. York predicted in November.

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