Lena Dunham’s embarrassing “First Time” ad on behalf of President Obama has drawn quite a bit of criticism because in it Dunham uses sexual innuendo to compare the first vote experience to a girl losing her virginity. The left, though, claims that Dunham’s “first time” joke about voting “goes way back to another presidential candidate: Ronald Reagan, less than a week before he ushered in the Republican landslide of 1980.”
The left’s comparison does not withstand scrutiny. Reagan, a former Democrat, sometimes joked about the experience of voting Republican for the first time (being on the same road myself, I remember him doing so). According to the Washington Post, at a working class bar in Bayonne, N.J., Reagan said, “I know what it’s like to pull the Republican lever for the first time, because I used to be a Democrat myself, and I can tell you it only hurts for a minute and then it feels just great.”
Was Reagan using sexual innuendo here? It’s possible. But the listener (or reader) must be the one to construe his comment as sexual; the words certainly don’t demand such an interpretation.
By contrast, there is no doubt when it comes to Dunham. “Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody; you want to do it with a great guy,” she tells us as suggestively as she can. Reagan, of course, said nothing about “doing it” or about a partner. Nor, I’m confident, did he vamp when he talked about “pulling the Republican lever for the first time.”
There is precedent for the Obama ad, but not from Reagan. As Scott has pointed out Vladimir Putin used a similarly suggestive ad in his recent campaign for the Russian presidency. In Putin’s ad, a young woman seeks the advice of a fortune-teller. “Let’s find out, cutie, who is intended to you by destiny,” the mystic says. The girl replies, “You know. I wish it to be for love — It is my first time.
This is the ad:
In another Putin ad, a doctor tells a young woman, “The main thing is to be sure it’s safe. Especially the first time.”
The Putin ads may well have inspired the Dunham ad on behalf of Obama. In any event, the Putin and Obama approaches have much in common in their use of scarcely-vailed sexual references, and very little in common with what Reagan said in 1980 about voting Republican for the first time.