How a 1964 TV commercial supporting Lyndon Johnson played to nuclear fears and set the standard for political attacks
The general election is now a year away. Soon, the airwaves will be filled with the venomous, negative campaign ads that we've all come to know and sometimes loathe. Parents of young children will be reaching for the Disney DVDs, hoping to protect their offspring from seeing those who aspire to elective office assassinate one other's character. By November 2012, somewhere in this big country, someone will be hurling something at a television set, screaming "No more!"
With all of that to look forward to, it's interesting to think back to the grandfather of negative campaign ads, the 1964 commercial that really started it all. It never actually mentioned the opponent's name or even made a direct reference to him. It was a subtle, yet devastating, ad--a far cry from the crude, blunt-instrument attacks most often seen today. It's still hard to watch the ad today and not say, "Wow."
In Robert Mann's just-released book, Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics, we learn why, how, and in what context the famous ad was developed by the Madison Avenue firm Doyle Dane Bernbach and media consultant Tony Schwartz. The Democratic National Committee created it at the behest of Lyndon Johnson's White House. Mann, who got his start as a press secretary and communications director for Sens. Russell Long and John Breaux, both Louisiana Democrats, has since become a respected historian. He is the author of seven books, a professor at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, and an authority on that period of American politics who has written acclaimed works on the Vietnam War and the civil-rights movement.