“Why do great nations fail?” a Chinese professor asks an auditorium of attentive students in Beijing in 2030. “The ancient Greeks, the Roman Empire, the British Empire and the United States of America. They all made the same mistakes. They turned back on the principles that made them great.”
The slickly produced advertisement, which was put up last weekend by Citizens Against Government Waste, an independent group, has been described by some pundits as the midterm “advert of the season”. Six months ago many had been expecting that China – or fear of China – would play a larger role in the US midterm elections.
But until last week resentment of China’s economic prowess was the dog that had largely failed to bark. Furthermore, the CAGW advert, which targets President Barack Obama’s allegedly excessive spending, sidesteps the widespread view across the US that jobs continue to be exported to east Asia – one that also features in ever stronger anti-trade sentiments. A recent NBC/WSJ poll showed that 53 per cent of Americans think free trade has been bad for the country.
But Democrats have largely avoided making trade into a campaign issue. Instead, they have focused on the role of anonymous corporate spending in the midterm elections following a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that opened the floodgates for companies to spend freely on their issues during elections.
Mr Obama briefly attempted to generate outrage over the US Chamber of Commerce’s overseas membership dues – insinuating that foreign companies were bankrolling the Republican party’s campaign.
And in what may be the second most noteworthy advert of the campaign, the Democratic National Committee earlier this month put out a spot that highlighted shadowy Chinese donors as the culprit. The advert, entitled “stealing our democracy”, alleged the Republicans were benefiting from foreign money. Against the grainy backdrop of a woman having her bag snatched in an underground car park, the advert shows someone counting out 100-renminbi notes bearing Mao Zedong’s face.
But the issue failed to catch on. And David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s senior political adviser, was caught fumbling on national television when he was asked to explain whether the Obama administration had any evidence the US Chamber of Commerce had channelled foreign money into the campaign. “Is this the best you can do?” asked Bob Schieffer, the CBS host, when Mr Axelrod said the chamber should prove it had not used overseas funds.
Instead of acting as a lightning rod for popular angst over continued US joblessness, China’s role in the midterm campaign has been bound up with more generalised fears about declining US power. According to a Financial Times analysis of the 68 “toss-up” districts identified by the Cook Political Report, unemployment has risen faster and the median household income has fallen further in those districts than in the average across the US.
But few of the Republican challengers to Democratic incumbents in those districts have made the loss of manufacturing jobs, or outsourcing to China, a strong plank in their election campaigns. Paradoxically, given China’s success in pushing through an effective – and relatively larger – fiscal stimulus last year, Republicans have largely confined themselves to attacks on Mr Obama’s spending record. That is also the target of the CAGW advert.
With a menacing half-smile, the Chinese professor concludes: “America tried to spend and tax itself out of a great recession with enormous so-called stimulus spending, reforms to healthcare, government takeover of private industries, and crushing debt. Of course, we owned most of the debt,” he says, pausing for a chuckle. “And now they work for us.” The audience erupts into laughter.
以上场景出自独立团体“公民反对政府浪费”组织（Citizens Against Government Waste，简称：CAGW）最近投放的一个别出心裁的广告。一些学者已经将这个广告封为中期选举期间的“最佳广告”。早在6个月前，就有许多人预计，中国——确切地说是对中国的恐惧——将在美国中期选举中扮演更重要的角色。
奥巴马曾短暂地试图引发针对美国商会(US Chamber of Commerce)海外会员费的众怒，他暗指外国企业正为共和党的竞选提供资助。
而本月早些时候由民主党全国委员会(Democratic National Committee)推出的另一则广告，也许算得上中期选举期间第二值得关注的广告。广告里的情节显示，藏在暗处的中国捐助者是罪魁祸首。该广告被命名为“窃取我们的民主”，声称共和党人正从外国资助中受惠。在一位女士的手提包在地下停车场遭抢这个模糊背景下，有人在点数一沓面值为100元、印有毛泽东头像的人民币钞票。
然而这个问题未能引起共鸣。而奥巴马的高级政治顾问戴维?阿克塞尔罗德(David Axelrod)在全国电视上被要求解释奥巴马政府是否有证据证明美国商会将外国资金用于竞选活动时，只是笨拙地说，美国商会应当证明自己没有动用海外资金。对此，哥伦比亚广播公司(CBS)主播鲍勃?席费尔(Bob Schieffer)反问道：“这就是你能提供的最佳答复吗？”
除了成为美国公众对失业率长期居高不下普遍忧虑的矛头，中国在中期选举竞选过程中的角色，还牵扯到人们对美国国力衰落的更为广义的恐惧。英国《金融时报》对库克政治报告(Cook Political Report)列出的68个“摇摆”地区所做的分析显示，这些地区的失业率升幅和家庭收入中值降幅均超过美国平均水平。