By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Five weeks ago, Phil Calvit and a group of his south Minneapolis neighbors were fed up with the Democratic Party. The Republican convention had bumped President Bush's poll lead to double digits, the Swift Boat loudmouths were getting all the pub, and Calvit and his friends couldn't get a lawn sign from the local Kerry/Edwards campaign headquarters. "It was like, 'My God, we're gonna lose this thing,'" says Calvit, a freelance ad-copy writer. "We're taking all these punches and no one's doing anything.'"
So Calvit and his neighbor, Kelley Garry-Marschall, decided to do something. They recruited 10 other like-minded folks, raised some money, and formed a 527 committee--a nonprofit established for the purpose of political activity and named for the tax code that governs it. Then they wrote and produced a TV commercial that suggests that Bush's war on terror is the best thing that ever happened to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda recruitment efforts, and set up a website (www.georgethemenace.org).
They intended to air the commercial on local TV, but have been met with resistance from all of the stations, and even some friends. "When we show it to people, they either go, 'That's great! I wanna see it again!' Or they go, 'Ugh,' and make a face like a grenade just went off," Calvit says. In his dealings with station managers, Calvit pointed out that the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof recently wrote a piece using the same satirical device, and that the Times' Katherine Seelye interviewed his group for a story. The stations, predictably, were still squeamish.
No matter. The spot has produced the sort of underground buzz that has become the parallel media universe of this election, and for now Calvit's crew has decided to stop pursuing local TV.
"The landscape has changed dramatically since we came up with this thing," Calvit notes. "We were looking at 8 to 10 point national deficits in the polls, and now that things are looking good, we're happy to just keep it as a 'viral internet our side' kind of thing, because we've seen how these bastards can take your own thing and beat you over the head with it."
All the better for spreading the word. "We've gotten a lot of attention without having to air it," Calvit concludes. "A friend of ours said she was instant-messaging her son, who's at college in Maine. She mentioned the spot and was about to type in the URL, and he IM'ed back, 'No, I've seen it. Everybody at school has seen it.'"