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Watching television a couple nights ago, I found myself watching a gritty, in-your-face advertisement featuring Jill Biden advocating for relief for “dying children in Africa.” The ad was sponsored by USAID, and it was playing 4 weeks before the elections. What’s wrong with that, you ask. It’s not like she was stumping for her husband or the President or anything.

Here’s the ad (USAID will love me for posting it, I’m sure).

Hmm. Really? She wasn’t stumping?  When you watch that advertisement, does the first thing that run through your mind involve concern for dying “children in the horn of Africa”? By the way, I’m loving the complete lack of distinction between any given region, country, state in the “Horn of Africa”?  And if the reason to run the ad is really about dying children in Africa, why not get Lara Croft herself to do the ad, given her role as humanitarian ambassador for all issues African?

Biden is one of a bunch of celebrities who signed up to represent USAID exactly 1 year ago, according to their press release, including, Uma Thurman, Josh Hartnett, Geena Davis and Chanel Iman, Lance Armstrong, and Anthony Bourdain. I will grant that I don’t watch a lot of television, and so I’m unable to have a sense of how often ads featuring these other celebrities have played during the last year—or even for that matter, during the last month.

But it’s more than interesting that USAID wants to run that ad at this moment—an ad featuring the wife of the incumbent Democratic vice-president. I’m not seeing a similar ad from Ann Romney—and I’m guessing, given her Mormon leanings, that she’s pretty darn sympathetic to fighting droughts, famines, and wars that kill “children in Africa.” Why isn’t she featured? Do you honestly think she would have turned down an opportunity to promote her favorite causes—a) Mormon proselytizing, b) imperial concern for poor black children in far away places, or c) her hubbalicious (not necessarily in that order)?

I’m not suggesting some conspiracy or collusion between USAID and Jill Biden. I’m sure that they never discussed the mutual advantages of having free Democratic advertising. And that’s exactly the problem: tacitly, all sides were presumably aware that they were entering into a negotiation to feature her at the beginning of the run up to the 2012 presidential elections. And it’s a win-win-win for all sides. USAID gets to be affiliated with the Democrats. The Democrats get to be affiliated with USAID, not to mention the free advertising that circumvents campaign rules. And they both get to live vicariously through Bono and Christmas 1984.

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