I Watched All 30 Min of John Delaney’s Infomercial
This past Sunday, I found myself sitting in Quad Creek Café, Drake University’s a la carte dining hall, grabbing a late afternoon lunch. I was hoping to grab something quickly before heading to the library to get some work done. But before I could take my chicken wrap and leave, a familiar voice compelled me to stay. As I was grabbing napkins and silverware, I heard from the TV above my head those infamous words found in every political advertisement: “I’m John Delaney and I approve this message.”
As I looked up, I saw the beginnings of what seemed to be a strange political ad. And as I kept watching, I was struck by how odd it was that the commercial just kept going. A quick Google search revealed that I was watching one of this caucus cycle’s more unique TV ads: a 30-minute infomercial called “Real Solutions” from former U.S. Representative John Delaney, Democrat of Maryland.
Knowing that this was one of those “only-in-Iowa” moments, I found myself a booth and sat down to watch John Delaney tell me why he should be president for 30 minutes.
The infomercial began by lamenting the polarized, gridlocked nature of U.S. politics. “We need to stop the noise of toxic divisiveness,” says Delaney. It then cuts to various clips of Delaney campaigning and stock footage of America while headlines and quotes praising the congressman line the bottom of the screen. This is set to audio of Delaney explaining what Americans want: unity and real solutions to everyday problems. Immediately I was struck by just how oddly compelling the video is. While the stock footage and feel-good buzzwords are a bit much, I found Delaney’s earnest presentation of his ideas to be refreshing, especially when so much of what campaigns put out is just rhetoric.
One of the more unique aspects of the infomercial was the professional, almost academic nature of its presentation. Delaney goes issue-by-issue, explaining his “real solutions” to the country’s various problems. He used charts and graphs to explain his talking points in a way that you would never see candidates use on the campaign trail. Additionally, he also used hypotheticals, thought experiments, and language that was more fit for a policy brief than a campaign video.
Interspersed between Delaney’s explanation of his policy platform were various testimonials from former business associates and activists about why they support Delaney. Many of them mentioned the congressman’s business acumen while others emphasized his bipartisanship and devotion to unity. And at the end of every issue section of the video, Delaney would devote time to talk about how he’d pay for each of his policy proposals. Once again, this struck me as odd and quite the departure from a primary that has been noticeably bare in terms of pay-fors (for both Democrats and Republicans).
One interesting undercurrent of Delaney’s entire video was the candidates and policies he was critiquing without naming. It was clear throughout the 30 minutes as Delaney portrayed himself as a moderate, centrist Democrat that he was running squarely against the likes of more progressive candidates such as U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He portrayed their ideas as “free everything” and argued that they would “turn off independent voters and re-elect Trump.” It was the sort of language that you might see on the debate stage or in an attack ad. In that sense, it stuck out from the generally kindhearted nature of the primary thus far.
As the infomercial ended, Delaney gave his closing pitch to viewers, reiterating his point from the beginning about bipartisanship and unity. He said, “Most candidates are running on impossible promises. We don’t need more of that and we don’t have time for it. I’m running on what we need to get America working again.”
Once it was over and the TV channel returned to other mid-afternoon programming, I found myself thinking about what could have ever compelled a candidate to pay thousands of dollars for an infomercial of all things. But despite my incredulousness about the video, I could see why the campaign chose to use this format. Delaney seems to excel in the long-form, explanatory format that an infomercial allows. You can see why this format could work well with Iowans, especially older ones, even in a political context. According to some Iowa pundits, Delaney’s use of infomercials could serve his campaign well as it did in the past with his 30-minute policy presentation series, America 2030. Plus, there is precedent for political infomercials. In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama ran 30-minute infomercials across seven networks in primetime during the general election race. These proved to be a smashing success for the campaign. Perhaps, Delaney’s infomercials will as well.