The portrayal of a young Asian woman speaking accented English in a Super Bowl ad being run by a US Senate candidate against the state of Michigan incumbent is bringing charges of racial insensitivity.
Republican Party consultant Nick De Leeuw flat-out scolded Republican Pete Hoekstra for the ad criticizing Senator Debbie Stabenow.
“Stabenow has got to go. But shame on Pete Hoekstra for that appalling new advertisement,” De Leeuw wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday morning. “Racism and xenophobia aren’t any way to get things done.”
A media consultant who has advised Democrats also thought it could prove problematic.
“Some Asian-Americans may be offended by the stereotype that is portrayed in the spot,” said Robert Kolt, who teaches advertising part-time at Michigan State University and had previewed a number of Sunday’s Super Bowl ads. “Pete seems like a nice guy in the ad, but I think he is wasting a lot of money now ... It’s just not Super Bowl-worthy. It’s not cute, it’s not funny and it’s not memorable.”
The nonpartisan Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote group’s Michigan chapter said it was “deeply disappointed” by the ad, adding that the Asian-American community is a major contributor to Michigan’s economy.
In 2010, Michigan’s 236,490 Asian-Americans made up 2.4 percent of the state’s population, up 35 percent from 2000.
“It is very disturbing that Mr Hoekstra’s campaign chose to use harmful negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment,” the group said in a statement.
Hoekstra campaign spokesman Paul Ciaramitaro said the ad was meant to be satirical.
Hoekstra’s Facebook page, which by early evening was getting a barrage of criticism on the ad, snapped back that those “trying to make this an issue of race demonstrates their total ignorance of job creation policies.”
On YouTube, the ratings buttons on the ad were disabled after it aired.
“Democrats talk about race when they can’t defend their records,” Ciaramitaro said. “The US economy is losing jobs to China because of Stabenow’s reckless spending policies. China is reaping the reward.”
The 30-second ad was filmed in California and never mentions China directly. It opens with the sound of a gong and shows a young Asian woman riding a bike on a narrow path lined by rice paddies.
Stopping her bike, the woman smiles into the camera and says: “Thank you, Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow. Debbie spends so much American money. You borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spenditnow.”
The scene then shifts to Hoekstra telling viewers near a cozy fire: “I think this race is between Debbie Spenditnow and Pete Spenditnot.”
The Hoekstra campaign set up a Web site, www.DebbieSpendItNow.com, that features the ad and includes Chinese writing, paper lanterns, parade dragons and Stabenow’s face on a Chinese fan.
It accuses the Democratic senator of “pouring American dollars into the Chinese economy.”
Democrats were quick to challenge the premise of the ad, referring to Hoekstra’s 18 years in the US House of Representatives and the fact that he joined a Washington-based law and lobbying firm last year.
“Hoekstra’s ad is nothing more than a hypocritical attempt at a Hollywood-style makeover because the fact is, Pete spends a lot,” Michigan Democratic chairman Mark Brewer said. “Hoekstra voted for the US$700 billion Wall Street bailout and voted for trillions more in deficit spending before quitting Congress to get rich at a Washington, DC, lobbying firm. Hoekstra is using the big game to play games with Michigan voters.”