Anti-National-Debt Ad is Free Speech, Not “Evil”

The ad certainly provokes thought.  Well-scrubbed youngsters in a classroom place their hands on their hearts and start to recite the pledge — but it’s a different pledge from the one I learned in school:

I pledge allegiance to America’s debt…and to the Chinese government that lends us money… And to the interest… for which we pay… compoundable… with higher taxes and lower pay… until the day we die.

My first thought was to link this 30-second ad with the manufactured controversy over President Obama’s back-to-school message — using children to make a political point.  But the well-produced ad was released September 1, and clearly was created before Obama’s planned speech became a target.

I learned of the ad from Matt Miller’s latest podcast, which I listened to shortly after posting about Miller yesterday.  He approvingly called it a “fascinating fake ad” with a “chilling message from an advocacy group.”

The advocacy group turns out to be the Employment Policies Institute, which describes as “one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman, who lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries.”

They make that sound like a bad thing.

Berman was profiled a couple of years ago on “60 Minutes,” which noted that he relishes the nickname opponents have pinned on him: “Dr. Evil.”   The Debt ad is a bit of a departure for EPI, whose primary mission seems to be arguing that increases in the minimum wage hurt poor people by stifling entry-level job creation. Other Berman-related ads compiled by “60 Minutes” focus on attacking unions and America’s “war on obesity.”

But as long as no laws are broken, lobbying is another form of free speech, and industries have every right to advocate for their own interests.  Berman’s messages should be evaluated on their merits — and in some cases, those merits are considerable.  I love the Pledge ad — our children really are going to be subjugated throughout their lives by the national debt we are recklessly accumulating, and the ad drives that message home in a memorable way.

My main quarrel with the Dr. Evil story is esoteric and parochial. The concept of evil inspired the name of this blog, and the word shouldn’t be trivialized.  People who fly airplanes into buildings are evil.  People who take sides on public policy issues are not.