Political ads left and right stoke fears of big, bad China


Xi Jinping, the vice president and presumptive next president of China, today visits the White House on a four-day tour of the United States. While some hope the trip will help ease tensions between the two nations, China is an increasingly popular boogeyman on the campaign trail here, especially in political attack ads.

You’ve probably seen the controversial ad that Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra aired in Michigan during the Super Bowl. The spot cost Hoekstra’s campaign $144,000 and helped his opponent Debbie Stabenow raise $150,000 in the week after it ran.

But Hoekstra’s ad is hardly alone recently in stoking fears of China.

Mark Amodei of Nevada, running for Congress in a special election last year, cut an ad claiming that raising the debt ceiling so empowers China that to do so is to “risk our independence.” A fictional, triumphant Chinese news report shows the People’s Liberation Army marching in front of the U.S. Capitol as a joyous choir sings. “It’s not too late to stop this nightmare,” Amodei says. In September he won election with 58% of the vote.

And it’s not just local campaigns using such tactics. In a number of 2010 commercials, the National Republican Campaign Committee equated support for the stimulus to favoring Chinese interests over American ones. “Staggering debt here, sending jobs to China. Who is he working for?” the narrator intones in ads against Chris Carney and Zack Space.

In a spot funded by the NRCC and approved by candidate Spike Maynard, images of “Made in China” labels flash ominously across the screen before Maynard’s opponent Rep. Nick Rahall is accused of voting “to help foreign companies create Chinese jobs making windmills.”

Another NRCC ad asks “Is Baron Hill Running for Congress in Indiana, or China?”

Of course, this xenophobic aesthetic is not limited to Republicans. An ad the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee ran against Sen. Pat Toomey in 2010 sounded remarkably similar. “Maybe he ought to run for Senate … in China,” its narrator declares. Lots of Chinese flags accompanied by gong sounds are thrown in for good measure. In another equally unsubtle DCCC ad against Toomey, “He’s not for you. :(” pops out of a fortune cookie.

The Democratic National Committee put out a video in 2010 accusing Karl Rove and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of “stealing our democracy” with “millions from secret donors.” “It appears they’ve even taken secret foreign money to influence our elections. It’s incredible!” the narrator cries over an image of Chinese yuan stacking up. No evidence is cited for this claim.

And a 2010 ad from MoveOn.org “connects the dots” from Rep. Mark Kirk to the Chamber of Commerce directly to China, Russia and India. “Exactly who is Mark Kirk working for?” the ad asks, indignant. Just like the NRCC.

The classic of the genre, though, may be from the 501(c)(3) Citizens Against Government Waste. In the widely-viewed 2010 ad, a Chinese professor in a high-tech classroom from the year 2030 explains how America “failed” like other great nations. “Of course, we owned most of their debt …” he says with a laugh, “so now they work for us.” As of last year, less than 10 percent of U.S. public debt is owed to Chinese investors.

Have you seen any other ads raising the specter of big, bad China? Let us know in the comments.