All the while, we hear Fetterman’s voice speaking to Stephen Colbert from his 2009 appearance on The Colbert Report. Colbert lists off facts that are all meant to make Braddock sound like a real shithole, but is also clearly meant as a set-up for Fetterman to launch into his heroic defense of the town — which he does. During the rest of the ad, we hear a mixture of clips from Fetterman interviews combined with clips of him being discussed on the news. The music gets more propulsive, and shots of Fetterman (clearly unstyled in a puffer jacket and basketball shorts) walking through Braddock are interspersed with images of “normal” people who live and work in Braddock, and who we see pretending to go about their business with no awareness of the camera. (I couldn’t help but imagine the director off screen, telling them to be “more American! more hard-working! more admirably stoic in the face of economic difficulties!")
It’s a slick and well-produced ad. Everything clicks into place where you’d expect it: the swelling music, the appropriately diverse line-up of “regular people” whose faces are zoomed in on at the end, the audio of news clips indicating Fetterman’s great works, etc. In that sense, it’s one of the most successful political ads I’ve seen in a while. But at the same time, it’s haunted by what it’s not and desperately wants to be: a Bernie Sanders ad. The strained realism of the ad is working overtime to achieve a sense of humanist populism and make Fetterman a figure of immense dignity and relatability. But in the ideal world, you wouldn’t have to work at those things at all. There’s the rub.