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Deconstructing Biden’s Ads

Amidst a general discussion of this year’s presidential race, political ad guru Bill Hillsman deconstructs four Joe Biden ads and one Trump ad for message and effectiveness.  Plus, child advocate Robert Fellmeth rejoins us to continue his crusade against anonymity on Facebook.

Bill Hillsman is a writer and an expert on Independent voters. He is the founder and CEO of North Woods Advertising in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He ran award-winning political advertising campaigns for Senator Paul Wellstone, Governor Jesse Ventura and our own Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign. North Woods Advertising has won numerous awards for creativity in advertising, including an EMMY and multiple POLLIE awards. Mr. Hillsman authored the book Run The Other Way: Fixing the Two-Party System, One Campaign at a Time”.

“The only route for reelection for Trump right now is this: blame the coronavirus response on anybody and everybody, but the federal government. So, he’s blaming China. He’s going to blame the governors. He’s going to blame mayors. He’s going to blame whoever he can for all of this.”

Bill Hillsman, CEO of North Woods Advertising

Robert Fellmeth has had a long and distinguished career as a public advocate. As a graduate student in the late sixties, he became the original Nader’s Raider, investigating the Federal Trade Commission. One of the first books he wrote while working with Ralph was “The Politics of Land: A Report on Land Use in California”. He then went on to work as an attorney in Ralph’s office, the Center for the Study of Responsive Law. In 1980, he founded The Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego Law School and also founded the Children’s Advocacy Institute, an organization that specializes in reforming the child protection and foster care systems and improving outcomes for youth aging out of foster care. 

“The first amendment isn’t just the right to belch. It isn’t just the speaker. The audience has rights too. The audience needs to know, ideally, who is talking. If they don’t know who is talking they can’t decide easily whether they want to listen or not, watch or not.”

Robert Fellmeth, Founder of the Children’s Advocacy Institute

Robert Fellmeth’s letter to Facebook

“When you ask [people] what they’re most concerned about about politicians, corruption’s right up there. This is a regime so corrupt it’s really staggering.”

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader Radio Hour Ep 333 Transcript (Right click to download)


  1. Mark Hughes says:

    How does Biden set himself apart? By hermitizing himself in his basement. Can’t set yourself more apart than that I guess.

    Ralph asks Bill Hillsman, “Are the Democrats tough enough?” That depends on who they’re up against. If they’re fighting the Republicans, they are indeed feckless, timid, pee-pants weak. But if they’re going up against progressives, Bernie voters, and even Bernie himself, they’re suddenly all a bunch of tough guys. So it’s this latter group on whom the Democrats go for the jugular.

    But this all might be moot right now, because the Democrats clearly do not want any part in having to govern the country during this pandemic and this Depression (which they helped create). So they will probably forfeit the election to Trump again. So all he will have to do to get reelected is to stay alive. I can almost see it now that Biden will concede too early and just hand it over to Trump, who might be the easiest incumbent to unseat if the Democrats actually wanted to govern and do so in the right ways.

    Hillsman brings up a great point in that Trump is dynamic and Biden is not. Biden’s “Four Hours” ad felt like it lasted four hours. Yawn. If one thing Americans vote for more than anything else, it’s charisma. Trump was more charismatic than Hillary, Obama was more charismatic than Romney and McCain combined, Dubya was more charismatic than Gore but that’s not saying much because dryer lint is more charismatic than Al Gore. Clinton, Reagan, JFK, etc. Like them or not they were more charismatic than their opponents. It’s the superficialities of our electoral system, and charisma produces demagogues.

    You want to know Biden’s plan? He summed it up perfectly when he told his donors on June 16 at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan these telling statements:

    “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money…The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change.

    “I need you very badly.”

    “I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you.”



    On the Fellmeth interview, my stance on anonymity is a little more nuanced I suppose. I think the people should have the right to opacity, the powerful have to be transparent. Because if anyone deserves protection, it’s the vulnerable. If anyone deserves to be vulnerable, is the wealthy & powerful. Sure there is something to the old saying “consider the source”. But also it’s important to also consider an idea on its own merits.

    Yes, there are ample people who are currently perverting the First Amendment to suit their own selfish & petty desires even at the risk of public safety and good. The anti-maskers come to mind.

    On monopoly, what needs to be remembered is that it is the natural goal of capitalism, it’s ultimate expression perhaps. Monopolies don’t just want to control industry, they want to control the entire society, and they do. We had monopolies a century ago, and they were disastrous then as they are now.

  2. Kimberlee Marquez Brown says:

    Why Mr Nader are you ONLY focused on Trump’s corruption..? You know full well Mr Biden is a very corrupt individual. WHY is it you seem to be supporting perhaps, an individual in Biden, who may be the lesser of the 2 evils… not by much.. why..?

    • Bruce K. says:

      We engineers have simple a rule of thumb. It ain’t always correct or
      applicable, but it is most of the time. When something is less than
      10% of another quantity – we call it insignificant, and ignore it.

      Actually, it is just basic human perception and problem solving.

      If Joe Biden was plotted on the corruption scale, he would be insignificant
      in comparison to the colossal and almost universally acknowledged, even
      from both sides, corruption and swamp water running through the veins
      of Donald J. Trump.

      So any attempt by anyone to make corruption issue about Joe Biden is
      totally disingenuous and is really just some pawn of the right trying to
      dismiss the whole issue of corruption with a the flimsiest of false

      Boo on that.

      Any anyone who wants to take the focus of corruption off DJT is not
      only someone who doesn’t care about fixing corruption as an issue but
      is actually acting in support of DJT’s corruption.

      Speaking of social media, how is it that our social media and political
      discussion in American now – all over is filled with these kinds of troll
      statements … and somehow we are being trained to respect them or
      taken them seriously … come on!

  3. Bruce K. says:

    The fake Democratic Party, i.e. the Corporate wing of the party ( as opposed to the real Democratic Party of the people, the Progressive wing of the party ) CANNOT bite the hand that feeds it. It will never happen … the best they can do is to give a good loser performance as Gore set the example for in 2000. The book 1984 made the point – it is best for the establishment to also own and control the opposition party too.

    Nationally the Democratic Party being taken over by the Populist Progressive Wing of the party would be the equivalent of a real Civil War, and not the fake threats of Extreme Right-Wing nuts used for instilling fear and obedience in the mainstream media watching audiences. It would be a clear and present danger to the “Corporatocracy” and who knows what kind of “diseases” would curse Americans if they ever had the temerity to actually demand or vote for actual democracy or “government of the people, by the people and for the people” like that good old Republican Lincoln coined.

    The USA cannot exist as a house “schzoiphrenic-alized” ( psycho-technologically divided ) by a techno-corporate ruling “Morlocks” ( H. G. Wells reference ) who treat the rest of us as farm animals and regularly apply triage methodology to remove any kind of viral infections, physical or mental.

    When the mass media manipulation technology exists on the Republican, it’s a safe bet that if the Democrats are not using it is not incompetence, it is a plausible deniability for letting down all its majority of voters in accordance with their political role in the establishment.

  4. Bruce K. says:

    If there is another election where the winner does not have the popular vote

    I love Ralph’s quote about the Republicans go for the jugular while the Democrats go for the capillaries!

    Seriously, Gore probably made more money under a President Bush than he would have under his own administration … why incentive did he have to complain?

    That first ad with the big music does not fit Biden’s image. They have got to go slam Trump.

    Second ad … we are not elected a father or worse a mother, we are looking for a President. Also too complicated. Stupid again!

    Other ads I have seen on YouTube are stupid enough to show Biden stuttering.

    The other place I can almost predict Biden is going to blow it is in his VP pick. He is going to scare people with all this BLM and Defund The Police by picking a black woman. Don’t push political correctness in a time when people are pissed off at the very idea of political correctness.

    In the 3rd ad he says he wants to rebuild the economy BETTER than it was before … that is weak … he should have said STRONGER … and it should be Biden himself making these cases … why is he not talking and playing into the hiding in the basement thing? This is nonsense.

    Biden should attack Trumps failures to protect American jobs. Go back and look at all the claims he made about keep the air conditioner company in America … they are gone, Trump is just lying.

    Biden should also be reminding people about the Supreme Court and some of the outrageous decisions they have made.

    I think Biden is deliberately blowing it, like Bernie did in the last Bernie-Biden debate. He is already starting to just lie down.

    Biden should be hammering to seniors about how Trump is always calling for tax cuts that will hurt Social Security – over and over – not to mention Medicare – and not to mention Trump’s continuous dishonest promises on healthcare.

    Good points on women – women really hate Trump, and one of the reasons W. Bush did so well is that he somehow appealed to women.

    Trump is paint Biden with Ukrainian corruption … and Biden will do nothing or something ineffective.

    Corruption based on Trumps shutting down information from the experts to the public might be effective.

    Democrats need to make the syllogism TRUMP = DEATH. Read some of the archetype ideas of Clothaire Rappaille.

  5. Bruce K. says:

    If you remove anonymous posts employment searches can then discriminate against people whose comments or politics they do not like – shame on Ralph Nader for continuing to push this issue when surely he knows that. Perhaps he does it because he personally does not have to worry about anyone discrimination against him based on his opinions – but lots of other people do and they do not want to be identified, but they do want the right to speak their minds.

    I’d love to have the money and manpower to construct a discussion forum where all comments were completely anonymous and no one could create a brand. They either make a point or they get deleted and the content of the comment itself is what matters, not what tricky name/handle they use, or what icon they use to appeal to the audience. Discussions are repeated all over the place, so there should be some hierarchy of logic and argument so that the same subject does not have to be argued thousands of times all over the web as well.

    • Anonymous speech obviously has its purposes, but our political speech environment is swarming with troll hit-men spewing lies and venom, often using multiple handles to create the appearance of mass support for marginal ideas. Having anonymous speakers on a board where you’re actually trying to forge a political consensus is like letting maskless people come to your house and cough in your face, suck on your pot pipe, and rummage through the salad bin. You’re gonna get something.

      Your facile assurance that arguments rise or fall on their merits in online discussion appears to derive from an observation you may be the first to document. A trip through Reddit’s more contentious subs will suffice to arm the opposition with plenty of evidence to counter your proposition.

      After eight years of studying online defamation (rapeutation.com), I will acknowledge having seen some cause for concern about employers discriminating against potential employees by doing google searches on them – and legislatures are playing catch up ball if they’re concerned at all with ending what should be an unlawful employment practice — punishing employees and candidates based on political expression.

      But the much bigger problem is the use of anonymous speech to ruin reputations, harass women, minorities, and political foes, driving too many cyber-bullying victims, young and old, into isolation and suicides. These abuses run side by side with the silencing of whistleblowers and climate scientists and the explosion of hate speech.

      These are the consequences of anonymous speech that directly injure many people and their blameless families, who suffer lost income and the destruction of joy in their home life. If you don’t give weight to all of this suffering that is being caused by unethical anonymous speech, and factor it into your analysis, you are simply reciting an absolutist free speech doctrine that does not have any real basis in the First Amendment, and actually runs toward an anarchic view of speech that few of us support, having experienced quite enough of it.

      All tools must be used with due care to avoid injury to others. Marshall McLuhan explained that all tools are in fact media, because we use them to shape reality and communicate our artificed realities to others. Media tools are the most powerful and valuable tools of all, dwarfing the importance of petrol-powered devices that once dwarfed all other tools, based on how we spend our money. (The combined market capitalization of energy companies in the S&P 1500 energy sector is $700 billion, compared with Microsoft’s $1.4 trillion market cap,)

      Hate speech that targets people for personal and career destruction deserves no First Amendment protection, and is fairly the subject of lawsuits for defamation and violations of privacy. Our life is media, and we breathe and swim in it. We cannot afford to allow the environment in which we live and breathe to be subject to contamination by every random a-hole. As my father in law was fond of saying, “Keep an open mind, but don’t let anybody dump garbage in it.” He was the man who introduced our family to Ralph Nader, who remains a hero in this house. Your effort to cast shade in his direction brings you no credit, particularly not with the weak argument you presented.

      • Bruce K. says:

        Well, without trying to argue, I’d say both sides of this argument are problematic. Just because you choose the identification side doesn’t make you right or mean your solution would work.

        There are a lot of problems with actually identifying someone. It doesn’t mean there will still not be fake accounts. Ralph rails against Facebook and online privacy while on this issue he sides with the invasion that can arguably do the most damage.

        Just a note though, my argument is no more “facile” than yours, in fact probably less since I don’t gloss over relevant issues You use of the word “facile” is in fact name-calling.

        If you are going to demand people identify themselves you might as well demand that we put our names on our ballots when we vote too. There is a reason that we have secrecy in ballots in public. Anyone can look at someone’s online content – their whole life’s worth, and know exactly where they stand politically.

        Read Edwin Black’s book “IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation” and note how the Nazis were able to divide and conquer their enemies and turn society against certain segments with just one punch card’s worth of information.

        The solution here would be to use pattern recognize to ferret out lies and trolls, not to invade everyone’s privacy, because we already can know for sure the people who have the money and power and do not want to be identified will remain anonymous while they rest of us will be sitting ducks. The technology does not exist … yet, to find trolls, but there is also no pubic data or discussion, using examples and case studies of trolling or online crime.

        Once the wrong people can know who you are, they can track your IP or phone to make you vulnerable or threaten you.

        You begin with the comment “Anonymous speech obviously has its purposes” … so I’d be curious to see where this fits it. I do not see any spam here on the RNRH and anonymous comments are allowed. Where is the problem here? Everyone’s comments stand on their own. This is small-scale and reasonably moderated, though the insulting comments allowed to post her insulting me would have been deleted anywhere else that does moderation. I submit it was because Ralph does not like to be called on the rabid one-sided anti-Israeli comments he peppers throughout his podcast. There is no way that will be resolved by making me identify myself, though it would get rid of me as a contributor.

        The Constitution allows us a secret ballot, and that means that in person we can allow and control what we say to others, but once things are public the is no control, and history is full of vicious abuse against people who speak against stronger, richer or more ruthless oppressors. It also allows elites to identify and guard themselves against people they can threat-assess. Like the video of Mitt Romney taken by, I believe, a caterer. Now they can vet anyone who comes into their sphere .. .and that capability will go wild if allowed to occur.

        • If you are implying that my use of the word “facile” is ad hominem, the only reason that I can imagine that a moderator would remove it, you are absolutely incorrect, because the word “facile” disparages your argument, not your person.

  6. Bruce K. says:

    Why aren’t you posting the Facebook’s contact information on this web page?

    One thing as a consumer advocate that Ralph is — please demand that these tech companies have contact numbers so people can get support, ask questions, deliver opinions and suggestion, etc.

    The Fellmeth section was too short.

  7. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    The problem with Joe Biden is that he’s an utterly corrupt right-wing scumbag who’s voted against worker-oriented legislation his entire life, he has a credible accusation of sexual assault against him, and he has clear signs of dementia. Ralph are you ready to get some third-party candidates on your show now that the primaries are effectively over? I can guarantee you’ll have some massively more interesting and enlightening conversations with a Howie Hawkins or a Gloria La Riva than doing ad analysis.

    I felt like I was living in another reality while listening to Robert Fellmeth this week. Does he even have a clue what the first amendment is actually about? It’s not about identifying speakers, it’s about protecting SPEECH ITSELF! Facebook infringes on speech REGULARLY by censoring and shutting down accounts to placate people exactly like Fellmeth who claim that they need to be protected by some faceless megacorporation from information and opinions they might disagree with. Do not be mislead by him: the is no solution to this problem that does not ultimately amount to a Ministry of Truth a la Nineteen Eighty-Four. I do not think highly of his patronizing “think of the children” argument against basic personal protection from corporate-state internet spying. Facebook is the most dangerous mass surveillance network in history and Fellmeth wants to further enhance its icy grip over social interaction by demanding identification that would make it impossible to avoid being tracked (already hard enough by the way, Facebook’s phone number and texting-based “two-factor authentication” is an incredible invasion of privacy).

    You wanna talk about “dangerous nonsense”, Robert? Let’s talk about your hysterical obsession with Chinese and Russians for starters. You know what’s REAL DANGEROUS? Seeing a Chinese or Russian spook around every corner while the US is encircling both countries with its military and has committed a trillion dollars to modernize its nuclear weapons. What’s really dangerous is using McCarthyite thinking to justify a clamp down on the free exchange of ideas. Get a grip, Robert, you’re being played. If you’re tired of being fed garbage by Facebook then I would suggest getting off Facebook. In fact I’d suggest everyone get the heck off of Facebook. There’s no way to make Facebook into something that’s good for society because at its most base level it is a surveillance platform. What really needs to change is that people need to be reminded that fixating on the identity of someone making an argument is a fallacious appeal to authority when used as the basis for scrutinizing that argument. It’s far better to judge an argument on its merits, not on who is making it.

    Ralph and company, don’t you think we’ve heard from this guy enough on this particular subject? What is this, the third or fourth time now we’ve had to listen to Fellmeth lecture us on his (and our presumed) crippling inability to ignore bots and trolls? Fellmeth’s vision of de-anonymizing the internet is never going to work because it isn’t setup like he thinks it is. Force people to do something they don’t want to do, and they’ll just move their activity to some other server hosted in some other country. How about you get someone from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the show who actually understands how the internet works? In fact they’re involved with a landmark court case right now to protect decades of internet history, articles, and culture.

    P.S. Zoom has the exact same business model of data commodification as Facebook (go read their privacy policy right now if you don’t believe me) and they have been caught in numerous privacy scandals over the last year! Teachers who care at all about their students’ privacy need to get the heck off corporate spyware like Zoom and switch to open, privacy-respecting alternatives like Jitsi Meet for electronic teaching.

    • Bruce K. says:

      >> The problem with Joe Biden is that he’s an utterly corrupt right-wing scumbag who’s voted against worker-oriented legislation his entire life

      Geeez ( pop your pimple and get all of the poison out of your system ) … this focusing on one side only and the content just name calling, that is a poisonous comment that doesn’t add value, add information, assist in discussion or lead anywhere. It’s just like the strategy used here to attack Israel or any other subject that your argument is weak or non-existent on … just name call and ignore anything about the other side. Divorce the subject from facts and discussion.

      It’s kind of a compulsive bad habit with this sector of the political activism scale and used on … or OVERused on every subject dishonestly of course. Thus we see why it is so important to keep the average global citizen ignorant uninformed and disconnected.

      So, who else are you going to vote for? Trump, Putin, Hsi, Mohammed bin Salman ?

      This is just another way of supporting the extreme-Right by saying voting is pointless, don’t vote.

    • Let’s start at the beginning. The U.S. Constitution starts out with the words, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice …”

      Our Constitution and system of justice was created by and for “We the People” – persons, not monarchies, corporations, cults, bots, trolls, paid operatives, or demonic entities. Who are “We the people”? All the individuals born into the U.S.A. that form our national group. What is an “individual”? A single human being. Every single human being has a name. Being identified with a name, we are born in the U.S.A., and become one of “The People,” and thereby receive our rights and protections under the Constitution, and right to have our speech be heard.

      These words, “We the People,” are famous throughout the world. No government had ever constituted itself on the basis of “We the People” before the United States established the world’s first government of “human rights,” and initiated the world-famous “Enlightenment” into world history, overturning an aeon of toxic authority at least in our country.

      So you are plainly wrong when you say that “the First Amendment is not about protecting speakers, but about protecting speech itself.” The Constitution clearly says that the First Amendment is made for the purpose of serving “We the People.”

      At least this was the case until Citizens United said that corporations were People, a philosophical and legal travesty with devastating consequences for “We the People,” some of which are being played out right here in the argument between us.

      What is hiding behind your argument against Robert Fellmeth, Ralph Nader, Reason, Justice, and the Constitution designed by “We the People,” is a defense of Citizens United. You want to give free reign to the speech of the faceless, disembodied corporations who have only profit and control for their motive, and nothing like civic responsibility or human concern, as has been proved over and over again.

      You say that there is no solution to the problem of anonymity but a 1984-type Ministry of Truth. How about this as a solution to the problem of anonymity? If you post anonymously, you can only name Corporations, not People. Corporations don’t experience humiliation, shame, and loss of reputation due to slander and libel, because they are not “Persons”. Whatever shame a corporation experiences is not the shame a “Person” feels, and they are not going to commit suicide over it — that is as clear as the difference between a human being and a man-made machine to people similarly not influenced by what is clearly the Frankensteinian argument of Citizens United. It is only fair – and our country is supposed to be all about fairness, isn’t it? — that if you are going to protect your own name, you must protect the names of all other “Persons” in our nation. Why should one Person be able to protect their own name from slander and abuse, while they slander and abuse the names of others? That would give them an unfair advantage, or rather give the person slandered an unfair disadvantage. People with names would no longer be equal to People without names. And if you were to anonymously praise someone instead of slandering them, you would be equally giving someone an unfair advantage, and your motives would be suspect.

      Because asking for the identity of someone making an argument is not “a fallacious appeal to authority,” but rather establishing that Person’s right to speak as a member of our class — “We the People,” the Persons born into the U.S.A. with rights to govern our society.

      Will this slide into anonymity not eventually devastate our human rights? If there are no “Persons”, then no Persons will need to have rights! How will we maintain our rights if we all pretend to not be Persons, hiding under the bed, afraid to use the very name that gives us the right to speak?

      Speaking of which, when I google your “name,” Afdal Shahanshah, there is no reference to anyone but Al-Afdal Shahanshah, the senior minister of the Imams of Shi’a Islam of Egypt (1066-1121). Are you trying to tell us something “symbolic” with your choice of a name, or have you managed to completely escape the Internet? The question I have for you is, “Are you an American? Do you have a dog in this First Amendment fight?” Because otherwise, why should I talk with you? You’re completely irrelevant. I also believe, as Fezzik said in the “Princess Bride,” that “People in masks cannot be trusted.”

      We all have the right to engage in voluntary associations of people who have all voluntarily disclosed their identities, because we all have the right to question why others wish to remain anonymous, and we are all aware of the dangers of engaging in communications with anonymous persons and people who misrepresent their identities. Social media, online forums, email and the ubiquitous Facebook monster are not unregulatable First Amendment creatures. They are not rare birds that require excessive speech protection, because the vast majority of speech on Facebook is simply commercial solicitation, garbed as everyday friendly chat. Vast numbers of personal users are running their businesses under the guise of lifestyle emporia, and virtually every story is click-bait, leaving the residual portion of truly protectable First Amendment speech to fill out the low percentage rankings. Commercial speech, commercial solicitations on the Internet or elsewhere, enjoy very little First Amendment protection. The form and content of advertising, the persons to whom it is delivered, and the contracts solicited through such advertising are all subject to regulation by Congress and State legislatures. It is all of that speech that needs to be regulated and de-anonymized. We need to end the swindling of our elders from domestic and foreign scammers who ply deception through untraceable domains, email accounts, and social media monikers. The way out of our current media mess is not through more elimination of responsibility for speech. We have far too much of that already. We need to get down to regulating the commercial speech that has destroyed factuality, reasoned discourse, and a common language for political discussion by commercial fragmentation. Facebook, which some might argue, is a tower of Babel unifying all in one great convocation of speech, is, ironically, nothing of the sort. Rather, it has been the curse of Babel, dividing our speech into a multitude of dialects, rendering us unable to speak with each other by cheapening the meaning of every word, giving comfortable space to alternative facts, launching us into a madness from which we can ill afford to suffer in dire days like these.

  8. john F CASSELLA says:

    Is the desire to get rich a type of mental illness??????

  9. Ryan says:

    Good show, but it’s not Joe Biden. It’s Joseph Biden. He does not deserve to be called Joe. And it’s also not Mark Zuckerberg, it’s Marcus Zuckerberg. He does not deserve to be called Mark, either.

  10. margaret Walsh says:

    good morning from camplunalinda..

    i ADORE the LINCOLN PROJECT ads!!!
    i like the audio/visual pace..
    it is easy for me to bypass the request for funds..
    no harm in asking..
    the ad artist is good at ad making..
    the funders are not so good at funding the ads..

    thank you for your consideration..Margaret Walsh

    CC’d: Bill Hillsman