IT'S EARLY IN THE presidential campaign to be getting all het up about outrageous ads that distort records or enflame passions. But a recent commercial sponsored by Moveon.org and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) has lit a fuse with me, maybe in part because it deals with military service, and I have a son who will be commissioned into the Air Force in a year.
In this ad, a young mother sits on the floor with her son Alex, whom she introduces to the viewing audience in general and John McCain in particular. In the tender, proud tone of mothers everywhere, she tells Sen. McCain and us about Alex, her firstborn--his sweet attributes and his effect on her own life. He is what makes her heart pound, she says.
And then, the money lines: So, John McCain, when you say you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex? Because if you were, you can't have him.
Please, Alex's mom, don't homeschool your child. Your social studies lessons might leave something to be desired.
It should be clear by now that Sen. McCain's "100 years" comment referred to peaceful base operations such as those we have in other parts of the world, not to a century-long war. So Alex's mom either doesn't pay attention to the news, has a problem with the military in general or with a President McCain in particular--or all of the above.
Whether it's a President McCain or a President Obama, though, military personnel swear allegiance first and foremost to protecting the Constitution, defending its values and rights against "all enemies, foreign or domestic."
If the majority of Americans decide the country's destiny is best directed by Sen. John McCain in 2008, then military personnel obey him as commander-in-chief. But they pledge to do so as part of their primary commitment to the rights embodied in the Constitution--our right to select the commander-in-chief being one of them.
It's true that sometimes we choose leaders unwisely. And sometimes even wise leaders make unwise decisions about foreign policy, with mothers everywhere paying the price. On that level, I completely understand Alex's mom's worry. Parents certainly have a right to be concerned about who their fellow citizens might choose to order their sons and daughters into harm's way.
But there are probably many military mothers who fret about what a Commander-in-Chief Obama might ask their sons and daughters to do. "President Obama, you can't have them," isn't a responsible answer to any orders he might give.
The Baby Alex ad's subtext is therefore strongly negative--ironic, considering its ultimate goal is probably to support the "yes, we can" candidate. Instead of appealing to the higher virtues of service to country regardless who's elected to lead it (embodied, by the way, in the life of the ad's target, Sen. John McCain), it plays on heartstrings to hide a message of selfishness: Count my family out of service to country unless perhaps I voted for the president in power.
Every time I see that Moveon spot, I start to fantasize about a response ad. It would feature that baby from the Etrade commercials, the one whose cool self-awareness is both odd and funny at the same time. He'd stare in the camera and tell viewers how he's signing up for the Armed Forces when he gets a chance. And then he'd say: "Hey--Alex! Don't worry, dude. I won't be hopping the next pram to Canada if my guy isn't elected 'cause, you know, it's not all about me."
Libby Sternberg, a school choice advocate, is the author of four novels, the first of which was an Edgar finalist.