Romney Ad Blames Obama For Killing Bill's Barbecue, But Locals Disagree
So far, one of the most controversial ads of the presidential campaign seemed to suggest that Mitt Romney was somehow to blame for a woman's cancer death. Now an ad from the Romney camp is being accused of mistakenly holding President Obama responsible for the death of a landmark barbecue joint in Richmond, Va.
The ad mingles sepia photos, sentimental music, old newspaper clippings and the tragic testimony of Rhoda Elliot, who currently runs the 82-year-old Bill's Barbecue, famous for its pies and limeade. "When President Obama took office there was a lot of hope that things were going to change," she explains. "Well he didn't change anything. There are more people on unemployment today and that's because the small businesses are failing. Because we can't make it."
The latest jobs numbers, released Friday, show a mixed picture, with 171,000 jobs created last month. But more people started looking for work, too, keeping the number of unemployed at around 12.3 million.
In fact, several local residents have other explanations for why Elliot is out of the job, however. Reporter Mark Holmberg of local station WTVR visited Bill's Barbecue many times over the years, and says the restaurant began foundering long before Obama took office, for all the various reasons that restaurants founder: bad service, overpriced food, a tired ambiance, erratic opening times, and health code violations. He points out that another barbecue restaurant opened three years ago nearby and has done wonderfully.
"We've grown every year while they have been declining every year," Buzz Grossberg, the owner of a 20-year-old competitor, Buz and Ned's, told The Washington Post. He says that he was able to open a second outfit in April, because Obama's Small Business Administration helped him get a private bank loan. One Yelp reviewer reports doing a taste test of Buz and Ned's and Bill's, and concluded that "Bill's just couldn't hold up under the scrutiny of comparison."
"You're either on your way to a nursing home or rehab if you eat at Bill's BBQ," wrote one reviewer.
On Thursday, Romney campaigned in Virginia, where the race is still a dead heat, and stopped by one of the Bill's closed locations. "Six years ago we started seeing a little ripple in things," Elliot told Romney, "and then five years ago it rippled a little more, and then it really hit, and from there things just got rougher and rougher -- the taxes, federal regulations."
Later that day, Romney told a crowd in Caroline County that taxes, regulations and "Obamacare" were "crushing small businesses across America."
In response, Obama spokeswoman Joanne Peters issued the statement: "Romney's plan could raise taxes on as many as 30 million small-business owners to pay for his $250,000 tax cuts for multimillionaires.... Mitt Romney can lurch from false attack to false attack in the final days of the campaign, but the American people understand President Obama is the only candidate in this race with a concrete plan to move our country forward, grow our economy, and strengthen the middle class."
This isn't the first time one of the campaigns has been criticized for recruiting regular Americans to make political points. The owner of a deli said in August that she was considering suing the Obama campaign for putting her store's name in an ad about Obama's pro-small business record. And last month, the head of an Ohio charity wasn't pleased when the Romney campaign "ramrodded their way" inside so that Paul Ryan could clean some already clean dishes for a photo op.
It seems the attitudes of working Americans are sometimes at odds with the ideologies of the politicians that want to tell their stories, and sometimes the ideologies of working Americans are at odds with the facts.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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