The political landscape in the U.S. in 2019 has practically surpassed parody. So in a way, this congressional ad for former CIA agent Valerie Plame shouldn’t be a shocking development, but somehow it still caused all of the air to leave my body.
In the video, which was posted online earlier this week, the opening shot is of a Dodge Charger racing backward down a dusty desert road. “I was an undercover CIA operative,” Plame says in a voiceover as she shifts gears. “My assignment was preventing rogue states and terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear weapons.”
That’s true: Plame served as a CIA operative from 1985 until 2002, although the specific details of her term with the agency remain unclear. In 2002, her identity was revealed to the American public and the world in a Washington Post article, forcing her into early retirement. Two Bush administration officials, Richard Armitage and Scooter Libby, were implicated in the leak, but no charges were ever filed in relation to her identity being released. She stayed out of the news until 2017, when she was criticized for retweeting anti-Semitic comments.
Plame doesn't dig into all that in her ad, which quickly goes from feeling like a car commercial to the plot of a second-rate political thriller. She zeroes in on Libby, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. After listing out the places she conducted her espionage — Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran — she finally delves into the reason she’s running for Congress, and the reason she hates Cheney.
“Dick Cheney’s chief of staff took revenge against my husband, and leaked my identity,” Plame continues. “His name? Scooter Libby. Guess who pardoned him?”
The camera cuts to an image of Donald Trump. Plame then runs through her family history — Ukranian Jewish family, a father and a brother that served in the armed forces — while the muscle car continues to zoom backward.
“My service was cut short when my own government betrayed me," she says, and finally she announces the point of the dramatic video: She’s running as a Democrat for Congress in her adopted home state of New Mexico, hoping to take the place of departing Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is running for Senate.
That's when the car flips out of reverse. She emerges from the vehicle and takes off her shades, David Caruso-style. “Yes the CIA really does teach us to drive like this,” she says. “You’ve probably heard my name. And Mr. President, I’ve got a few scores to settle.”
Yikes. Is she running for office or delivering a threat? It’s really hard to tell. But one thing is for sure: Plame’s ad is the mark of a new level of political advertising. You can’t just have a message anymore, you need to have a full-on movie trailer in order to compete.