May 13, 2010
Family Research Council and FRCAction have gotten a lot of experience recently in doing online and radio ads. FRCActions powerful radio spot may have helped to drive Rep. Bart Stupak from the 2010 congressional races. Other groups doubtless will claim that credit, too, but it was FRCActions hard-hitting ad that really showed how Stupaks vote for ObamaCare opens the door to federal funding of abortion-on-demand for the first time since the passage of the Hyde Amendment more than thirty years ago. That ad, because it spoke so strongly to the deeply-held pro-life convictions of the good folks in Stupaks congressional districtMichigans Upper Peninsulawas probably the thing that changed the political picture.
Were now seeing a lot more ads online. Its a wonderful new technology and it can really revolutionize political advertising. Gary Bauer, my former boss and my friend, has put a new ad online that is drawing lots of attention: Keep Israel Safe. The ad shows how dangerous Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is and why he cannot be allowed to complete Irans drive for a nuclear weapon. Gary argues in this ad that keeping Israel safe is the best way to keep America safe. By implication, Gary is saying that President Obama is endangering both the U.S. and Israel. I agree strongly.
This brings up the whole topic of political ads. They can be powerful and they can be misused. The worst ad in history, I believe, was the 1964 ad screened by the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign. They were determined to make Americans believe that Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee for President, would get us into a nuclear war with the Soviets. So the LBJ campaign screened an ad called The Daisy. The ad featured a little girl pulling petals off a daisy and counting to ten. Then, an announcers voice does the 10...9...8...7... countdown for the launch of a nuclear missile. After you see the nuclear explosion, President Johnsons voice is heard saying These are the stakes...We must either love each other, or we must die. In other words, if you vote for Barry Goldwater, you and your lovely little girl will die in a nuclear holocaust. This is a classic TV ad because it so bad, so dishonest, so utterly devoid of truth. Bill Moyerswho jumped to PBS shortly after okaying this obscenityis forever lecturing us on morality in politics. Thats like a notorious knee groiner preaching about fair play in wrestling.
The Johnson people, perhaps recognizing that it was a below-the-belt hit, defensively say that the ad was only run once. Right. Thats all they had to run it. It was immediately picked up and run again and again and again by the liberal media who kept showing it on news programs as they asked is this a fair criticism of the Goldwater campaign? Their conclusion, was that it might be a bit rough, but the stakes are high and, hey, Harry Truman said it best: If you cant stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. So the Johnson campaign had to endure some mild tsk-tsking but they got their message out thereplayed hundreds of times and for free.
My candidate for the best political ad in history is The Bear, from the 1984 campaign.
Ronald Reagan was famous for his get-tough attitude toward the Soviet Union. Part of the genius of this ad is that it never mentions war, or nukes, or enemies. But everyone in those years knew who the bear wasthat was the symbol of Russia. The ad never mentions former Vice President Mondale. It doesnt insult the voters intelligence.
It helped because Fritz Mondale was even then campaigning for a Nuclear Freeze. This was the idea that the United States should respond to the Soviets moving hundreds of SS-19 and SS-20 nuclear missiles into Eastern Europe by freezing our promised matching of this move. We had promised NATO countries that we would give them U.S. Pershing and Cruise missiles to balance the Soviets missiles. But when the time came to keep that promise, Mondale and the rest of the liberal dovecote froze in terror. They feared that if the West showed steely resolve to match the Soviets aggression, we would start a nuclear war.
Well, there was a bear in those woods. And Ronald Reagans campaign slogan of Prepared for Peace struck a responsive chord with voters that year. LBJ won 44 states in his re-election bid in 1964. Reagan won 49 states in his 1984 contest.
Four years after his smashing victory, President Johnson was driven from office by his own party. He could not even attend his partys 1968 nominating convention, he was so despised. Four years after his landslide re-election bid, Ronald Reagan retired, honored and loved by millions of Americans in both political parties.
So, as we head into the political season, it might be well to remember the best and worst political ads. The best messages are those that are true, strong, and speak to the hearts of the American people. And, yes, it does matter how you play the game.