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That Dana Nessel ad about sexual harassment is shocking, but effective

Dec 11, 2017

There’s only one safe prediction about next year’s elections: Millions will be spent on broadcast commercials for the various candidates for office.

Millions more will be spent on commercials attacking these candidates, many paid for by secret, so-called “dark money” funders that are disgracefully legal in Michigan. But so far, the ad that has gotten the most attention is a well-produced but low-budget spot posted on YouTube a couple weeks ago. It’s an ad featuring Dana Nessel, who is attempting to get the Democratic nomination for Michigan attorney general.

Sitting in front of a roaring fire, dressed in a professional blue blazer, Nessel, referring to the sudden spate of political sexual harassment scandals, says “If the last few weeks has taught us anything, it’s that we need more women in power, not less. So when you’re choosing Michigan’s next attorney general, ask yourself this: Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn’t have a penis? I’d say so.”

You can see the full ad below. 

Well, that seemed to horrify all sorts of people, mainly men.

“She’s finished in politics! Now the Democrats will never give her anything,” an elderly former office holder told me.

Well, I totally disagree. I think it was brilliant, and I’ve been watching campaigns for a long time. Here’s why: Prior to the “penis video,” as it is being called, not very many people knew Nessel, though she was the lead attorney in the federal court case that led to both same-sex adoption and same-sex marriage being made legal in Michigan.

She was also a long-time Wayne County prosecutor. But much of the Democratic establishment wants to nominate Patrick Miles, who President Obama appointed as federal prosecutor for the western district of Michigan. Miles is absolutely qualified to be attorney general. His nomination would also fulfill what has been an unwritten Democratic Party rule, which is that one of their four statewide candidates has to be African-American. Too often, Democrats have engaged in the most cynical form of tokenism, nominating black candidates who have little chance to win and sometimes haven’t even been qualified.

Miles is, in contrast, qualified indeed, though there are grumblings about his ill-defined positions on some issues. But Nessel is also qualified, and at this point needs two things – name recognition and money. Her ad certainly helped give her the first.

Network anchors showed it and interviewed her. Whether this is paying off in donations, I have no idea. But she got her name out there. If you watch the whole commercial, which is less than two minutes long, it is clear she has a sense of humor and isn’t attacking anyone’s manhood.

Nessel is attacking the notion that there might be “too many women” on the statewide ticket, something a lot of male Democrats are actually worried about. They think that since they are likely to nominate female candidates for governor and secretary of state, they couldn’t possibly have a third one. Never mind that until 1982, all tickets were always all male.

There may be reasons to prefer another candidate, but being a woman isn’t a legitimate one. I have to wonder if some are rattled by her claim that people without a penis are less likely to misbehave … because they fear it might be true.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.