Photoshopping campaign material is generally frowned upon in the world of professional politics. It always seems like a good idea at the time—but it always comes back to hurt you when a careful eye notices. The problem with doctoring photos for political purposes is not so much that a candidate has done it, but that the discovery almost always leads to speculation about why the candidate would do it—and what that says about the image the candidate is trying to falsely portray to voters.
Representative Rob Kauffman (R-Chambersburg) is the latest victim of the careful eye test, and I should immediately point out that it was not this author’s careful eyes that discovered it.
A few weeks ago, Keystone Politics was sent an email by a voter in the 89th General Assembly District claiming that they had in their possession doctored political photos used by the Kauffman campaign. Those photos were sent to Keystone Politics, and the scanned copies appear below.
Here’s the first piece of literature, which was given to voters by Kauffman as he knocked on their door:
An idyllic, perfect, and loving family indeed.
Now, here’s the piece of campaign literature that was sent to the very same voters as a follow up:
Puppy! [Keystone Politics added the red circle highlighting the perplexing pooch.]
The photos are identical, with the exception of a cuddly canine companion alongside the Kauffman clan.
The planted puppy is reminiscent of Will Ferrell’s fictional character in “The Campaign,” who while running for Congress replaces pictures of his pugs (a Chinese breed in origin) with a golden retriever and a chocolate lab named Scout and Sergeant, respectively.
“The Campaign,” however, was intended to parody everything that is wrong with politics whereas Representative Kauffman’s literature actually exemplifies it.
Usually, being caught with a political photoshop is embarrassing enough, but it’s the follow-up questions that do the damage.
Let’s look at some historic doctored political photos to gain some insight into this phenomenon. The 2004 Presidential Election will serve our purpose well as a case study.
Remember when Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie called Senator John Kerry a “Jane Fonda Democrat?” Shortly thereafter, this photo began circulating around the internet:
The exposure of the photoshop was bad enough, but the bigger point was that the Bush campaign was trying so desperately to disparage Senator Kerry’s patriotism and war heroism that their supporters were willing to fabricate photo evidence to “prove” their point.
How about the late 2004 Bush campaign ad “Whatever It Takes,” which showed President Bush standing on a podium next to a crowd chock-full of military supporters? After a closer look is taken at the footage, the following still shows a significant problem with the crowd:
Again, the fallout from the digital doctoring was utterly unpleasant for the Bush campaign, but it showed that their strategy was to align the President with military support and take away from John Kerry’s bona fides as an American patriot.
So what does Rep. Rob Kauffman’s photo say about his underlying motivation? We can only speculate, but the doctored photos strongly suggest that Kauffman wants to portray himself as a family man with family values, and even a family dog. He’s just like your family, or at least what you aspire for your family to be.
Kauffman wants voters to make certain assumptions about him personally. To make sure that voters make those assumptions, his campaign has added a cute little puppy to his literature.
I don’t know whether Rob Kauffman is the idealized man that these photos portray. In fact, I bet he probably is.
But I do know this–if you want a legislator representing you who can make puppies appear out of thin air, then Rob Kauffman is your man.
[Update: We want your submissions! If Rob Kauffman can photoshop a puppy into a picture of him, you can too. Please send in all submissions of your doctored photos of Rob Kauffman with a puppy to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Kauffman Canine Contest.” The best doctored doggy with a Kauffman candid will be posted next week. For stock photos of Kauffman, check out his handy photo gallery here: http://www.repkauffman.com/gallery.aspx]