With campaign season soon to be upon us, I thought it might be fun to go over some political advertisements that I find particularly enjoyable. Now, I’m not saying these are the greatest political ads of all time, but they tend to be enjoyable, and most of all, they’re reasonably revealing of the time period that birthed them.
“It’s Up To You” – John F. Kennedy (1960)
One of the things I love about this ad is the jovial bounce of its tune; it’s like that friendly person you know who’s always up-beat. There’s also a hell of a lot of repetition in this ad; by my count “Kennedy” is shouted roughly 30 times in an ad which lasts only a minute. And that’s not including all the time his name appears on screen in animated signage, combined with the theme “A Time For Greatness” or the word “President”. This ad was featured on AMC’s Mad Men and actually, Kennedy’s opponent Richard Nixon completely ripped it off for his 1962 run for California’s Governor (a race he also lost).
“Nixon Now” – Richard Nixon (1972)
You do have to give Nixon credit though; he never gave up. And this ad from 1972 is just mind-boggling in retrospect. The idea of a sitting president during the Cold War, much less a Republican president, showing himself hanging out with Chairman Mao of China and Premier Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union while the phrase “reaching out, across the sea / making friends, where foes used to be,” is sung would be unthinkable in the current day.
Also unthinkable, that Nixon ever ran this campaign ad, which features a sign declaring “Peace: Nixon Does More Than Talk About It” while the Viet Nam War had escalated under Nixon’s rule. It’s especially ironic considering that in less then two years, Nixon would leave office disgraced by Watergate and ushering in an era of cynicism making this ad and the previous Kennedy ad seem like relics from a bygone era.
“Daisy” – Lyndon Johnson (1964)
The “Daisy” ad is considered the mother of all attack ads, but frankly, I think that’s beside the point. To me, it’s just a really interesting ad. There’s a way the girl flubs the count, counting “six” twice and missing “seven” completely. There’s the way the countdown voice sounds both like “zero” and “kill” as it’s obscured by the sound of the nuclear explosion. And then there’s LBJ’s magnificent Texan twang as he intones “these are the stakes: to make a world in which all of God’s children can live or to go into the dark. We must either love each other; or we must die.” It’s a beautifully Manichaean sentiment, we’ll all chose to love each other and we all should.
It also uses Johnson’s theme; “The Stakes Are Too High For You To Stay Home.” Many people have interpreted this ad as saying that if Johnson’s opponent, Republican Barry Goldwater, got his way, there’d be nuclear war. Johnson’s other ads seem more concerned with Goldwater’s opposition to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; though this one uses Republican governors (including Mitt Romney’s father) to argue against Goldwater using Republican words. And he also focused on his War on Poverty.
“Armed Chinese Troops In Texas!” – Ron Paul (2012)
I really enjoy this ad, because it’s a complete castigation of American foreign policy and it’s pretty much right on the money on everything. You can see why Republicans believed Ron Paul was the least trustworthy candidate on foreign policy during presidential primary. Is it overwrought? Yes, but no more then the Kennedy or Nixon ads were enthusiastic. And most importantly, this is taken from an actual speech Paul gave (as should be clear when the narrator’s emphatic voice changes to Paul’s softer, mournful one). There’s an underlying weirdness to Ron Paul’s candidacy; like Johnson did, he utilizes the word “love” to counterpoint the war mentality of his opponents.
This is probably as good a time to talk about why liberals have this flirtation with Ron Paul, and this ad is what makes it clear. However, it should be noted that his domestic policies are pretty much twice as backward as the Ryan Plan.
“Don’t Wake Up With Conservative” – Unofficial Labour Party (2005)
Okay, I’m pretty sure this is a fake one (it’s part of a trio), but it’s still good, in my opinion. This is an unofficial one for the Labour Party in the UK, and it’s good on multiple levels. There’s the general hungover nature of the young woman as she wakes up to discover this Conservative in her bed. There’s his glee at testing foreigners for AIDS or building prisons, and the sort of psychopathic way he keeps saying “four years” whenever the woman protests that she wants him gone. He’s also a posh twit, and has posh twit friends.
Then there’s our hero, Anthony, who comes in with this triumphant music that instantly turns melancholy. When he asks what happened and the woman puts out the protest “what about the war, and all those inquiries?” His response is classic: “Look, that would’ve happened anyway. And a lot of the facts have been twisted by malicious journalists.” It’s a line that would fit in perfectly in America, where blaming the media is often a way to shift attention off of our own failures.
It’s also an ad that says that disgust with a ruling party isn’t really a reason to turn to alternatives you’d hate more. Plenty of European nations who turned to conservative parties following austerity introduced by social democrats are discovering that (Spain, for example). And it’s precisely the choice Americans made in 2010 to get the worst Congress ever. And now in 2012, we’re facing that choice again.