When he’s not overseeing sadistic medical experiments on homeless dogs; flitting between his properties in Turkey, New Jersey, and Florida; or hawking quack “miracle” drugs to a credulous TV audience, Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz seems to nurse a sneering contempt of Pennsylvania college students, particularly ones burdened by exorbitant tuition fees.
How else does one explain this ad, created by the conservative super PAC Our American Century, which ran this past Sunday during the Eagles-Cardinals game? Like all dark money ads it’s not officially “authorized” by Oz or his campaign apparatus, but the highly produced footage of Oz within it clearly suggests it was crafted with the campaign’s full knowledge.
Lasting a mere 30 seconds, the ad is ostensibly an attack on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman for his support of student loan forgiveness, though Fetterman himself only appears for a few seconds. Its main takeaway is an appeal to blue-collar resentment by suggesting that college students—described as “liberal snowflakes”—would get an undeserved free ride by potentially having their college debt reduced. In that sense it relies on a time-tested GOP tactic of pitting one socially embattled class against another by inflaming their grievances. But the ad stands out for its sexist undertones, not to mention its blanket disdain for college students forced to work at low-paying service jobs to stay ahead of their student loans.
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The ad has been recorded for posterity on YouTube:
Narrated by a bad Sam Elliott voice impersonator (the real Sam Elliott cut an ad for Joe Biden in the 2020 election and has described Trump supporters as “not very smart”), the ad depicts four TikTok users made up with fluorescent hair dye and a bartender singled out for her “blue hair” as evidencing, I suppose, typical Pennsylvania college students. The narration helpfully insists that “union workers” would be forced to pay for the bartender’s “gender studies” degree, as well as the college costs for the other young people depicted in the ad. Class, age, and gender stereotypes are all invoked while the ersatz Elliott gruffly declares that “taxpayers” (presumably the bartender does not make enough money to pay federal or state taxes) will be voting for “Dr. Oz.”
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There are several inherent problems with this ad beyond the obvious disdain for young people it conveys. Those problems are sadly indicative not only of Oz’s mindset, but of the Republican Party as a whole. But first, let’s start with the bartenders of the nation, blue-haired or not.
Bartending is not easy work. It involves standing on your feet eight to 12 hours a shift; cleaning up floors and mats; endless prep work; and often dealing with drunks, creeps, and entitled jerks trying to impress others. You have to be nice to these people because you depend on their tips. Some people just don’t tip, while others get so drunk they forget. If you’re a young attractive woman, you will be ogled and flirted with by these types of people for hours at a time. You might receive health benefits if you’re working full time, and it’s a business that boasts notorious rates of failure and closure. And while bartending can be enjoyable and rewarding, depending on your job and the clientele, in the end you will make enough money to pay your bills, but probably not enough to save for a down payment on a house—particularly if you have student loans to pay off while you search for a decently paying career in whatever you happened to pursue in college.
Odds are it wasn’t “gender studies,” by the way. According to the latest data available, a mere 1,383 out of 2,012,854 bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2018-19 were in women’s studies. That’s the closest named major to the “gender studies” one that’s long held “the most common ‘useless major’ bogeyman” crown.
Even if it’s unlikely she majored in “gender studies,” it is likely that a young bartender like the blue-haired one mocked in Oz’s ad is working to support herself. It’s even possible that her parents are those same “union workers” who were “busting their hump for 25 years” so she could have better prospects than they had. Oz’s campaign backers may disparage someone’s desire to preserve a sense of identity by dyeing her hair, but something tells me few blue-collar workers would join them.
And as for those “union workers?” Most are probably very grateful to be in a union. Republican anti-worker policies and their allies on the Supreme Court have whittled down union membership in this country to a fraction of what it once was, leaving workers without any leverage to negotiate better working conditions, pay, or benefits. Most likely none of the highly paid, billionaire-backed wizards who crafted this ad have any idea what they’re talking about when they claim to represent what unionized workers might “think.” Nor does Oz, who married into fabulous wealth before his Hollywood career took off.
The essential point of this Steve Wynn-funded ad is to inflame blue-collar workers with the idea that their tax dollars may go toward paying off allegedly undeserving students’ loans. Two points: First, no parent wants their kids to have to incur massive debt in order to get ahead in life. Most parents would gladly pay for all or part their children’s educations if they had the resources to do it, and many parents sacrifice a large part of their own accumulated nest egg in order to do just that. So forgiveness of student loans doesn’t just relate to the students but to their parents as well, some of whom may be tasked with caring for their own elderly parents at the same time. The same cabal of Republican senators that Oz is itching to rub elbows with effectively killed care for the elderly included in President Joe Biden’s budget last year. Maybe the folks at Our American Century don’t have to care for their parents, but plenty of blue-collar workers do, often stuck in an impossible position between wanting to assist with their children’s futures and preserving the lives of their parents.
But to put this ad in its proper context, the second point is even more relevant: In 2017, Republicans passed a $2.4 trillion dollar tax cut to reward their uber-wealthy donor base. Almost none of that money “trickled down” to the middle class. It went, for the most part, to corporate CEOs and officers who didn’t create jobs with it or invest it in R&D, but instead bought back stock in their own companies. Those “liberal snowflakes” on TikTok who work service jobs? They didn’t see a dime of that, and for the most part, neither did their working parents.
There’s something a little more than obscene about a guy worth an estimated $100 million from promoting phony quack cures and supplements telling “union workers” they should be angry about a program designed to give their kids a decent shot at a better life. (It’s even more bothersome when he allies himself with a party that recently had its nose to the trough when those billions in PPP loans during the pandemic were being dished out.
(Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.)
But I guess it’s just easier to go after the kids, rather than facing up to the person you really are.
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