The American Museum of the Moving Image now has online an amazing and wonderful archive of televised presidential campaign ads going all the way back to 1952. Be forewarned: "The Living Room Candidate" site is highly addictive. There are dozens of ads, many of which have long since faded from popular memory (for example foodóin the sense of what a family could afford to eatówas an issue in the 1952 Eisenhower-Stevenson campaign).
Needless to say, the two most notorious campaign ads in U.S. history are here:
-- Lyndon Johnson's 1964 ad in which a little girl's counting of daisy petals morphs into a countdown to nuclear war while LBJ intones in his Texas twang, "We must either love each other, or we must die." The ad played to public fears that Johnson's opponent, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, was a reckless ideologue who might lead the nation to nuclear war. It ran only once, but it is still being emulated. In 2000, a pro-Bush group produced a look-alike ad that accused President Clinton and Vice President Gore of giving China U.S. nuclear secrets in exchange for campaign contributions. And last year, during the run up to the Iraq invasion, the liberal political-action group MoveOn.org produced yet another daisy-counter that suggested Islamic extremists might take over a country with nuclear weapons because of Bush's foreign policies (my link to this ad is broken).
-- George H.W. Bush's "Willie Horton" ad, which tarred opponent Michael Dukakis by recounting that murderer Horton, who was granted a weekend furlough while serving a life term in Massachusetts during Dukakis' tenure as governor, fled to Maryland, assaulted a man there and raped his wife repeatedly. This was already public knowledge. What the ad injected into the campaign was race: Horton was black, which hadn't been mentioned previously. This Salon piece has some background.
But the real treasures at "The Living Room Candidate" are ones you've probably never seen, or even heard about:
-- Jacqueline Kennedy's utterly assured delivery of an ad in Spanish to court Latino voters for husband John in his 1960 campaign against Richard Nixon and Kennedy's answer to a question about whether his Catholic faith would cause him to have "divided loyalties" if elected. Both are here.
-- A true period piece, in which Nixon assures Americans that the U.S. economy is growing faster than that of the Soviet Union. We forget that until well into the 1970s there was a real question whether capitalism or Communism would become the dominant economic system.
-- Barry Goldwater's prescient call in 1964 (when there were only 275 dead in Vietnam) for abolition of the draft and the creation of a volunteer army, and the spirited defense of Goldwater against Democratic charges of extremism by an over-the-hill B movie actor named Ronald Reagan. That ad put Reagan on the trail that led first to the governorship of California, then the White House. Both are here.
And much, much more. Check it out.
Note: These ads require either Windows Media Player or RealPlayer. Also note that the ads can be run full screen (at least with a broadband connection).