The Republican Party of South Dakota (SDGOP) released a web video this month that was meant to contrast the “radically different visions” of two South Dakota candidates for the House of Representatives seat—Democrat Matt Varilek and incumbent Republican Kristi Noem—but ended up another case of GOP hilarity.
The ad attacks Varilek for his higher education and international travels, including his attendance at University of Glasgow in Scotland and Cambridge University for graduate-level environmental studies, as well as his work as a teaching assistant at Biosphere 2 (a sophisticated Earth ecology lab that the ad says is “known as an incubator for radical environmental ideas”) and a greenhouse gas emissions broker for Natsource. While Varilek’s off doing all these “radical” things and supposedly ignoring South Dakota, Noem is back home raising her family, tending to the farm, managing a “family” restaurant and doing other vaguely rural things. But the highlight of the ad, which runs 2 minutes and 40 seconds, is the attack against a party that Varilek hosted in honor of National Corndog Day. The ominous voice of the narrator tells us that, while Noem was busy winning a seat in the state legislature in 2006, Varilek was caught up in the fast and loose frat-boy lifestyle: Matt Varilek hosts a raucous National Corndog Day party in his swanky D.C. neighborhood, serving more than 1,000 corn dogs, 1,200 beers and a 150-pound ice luge for consuming shots of Jägermeister. The ad also tells us that, when Varilek returned to SD, he was “back “corn dogging” again--defending his title as one of the few to achieve a “triple double” for his beer and corn dog consumption.” Huh? Let’s assume that the SDGOP doesn’t know what corn dogging is and ignore the ad’s implications that winning a corndog eating contest makes one less qualified to serve in Congress. Throughout, the video also emphasizes Varilek’s advocacy for cap-and-trade “schemes”—he promoted global cap-and-trade plans at UN summits in 2001 and 2003—plans that would reduce greenhouse gas pollution by imposing limits on how much carbon a company can emit. Of course, cap-and-trade is a four-letter word for the GOP (even though such measures were initially introduced and promoted by Republican leaders), so the video makes sure to frame Varilek’s efforts to cut pollution and protect the ozone layer as shady and un-American. In the end, the ad leaves us asking: Is this satire? It seems more like an SNL short than a serious campaign for Congress. Rather than paint a world in which Varilek is a dangerous radical and Noem is a moral and upstanding South Dakotan, it unwittingly portrays Varilek as educated and motivated and Noem as a bumpkin who never left her home state.