The Museum of the Moving Image has a wonderful exhibition on its website in time for the Presidential campaign. “The Living Room Candidate” is a political junky’s dream, featuring top commercials aired by the candidates from 1952 to 2008. That’s Ike to Dubya.
The roster includes classics such as the “Daisy” spot of Lyndon Johnson that put the fear of God into an electorate over the prospect of Barry Goldwater’s finger on the nuke trigger. Ronald Reagan’s superb, “Morning in America,” still resonates. Alas, Willie Horton doesn’t make the cut. Mike Dukakis’ wild tank ride does.
The 1968 commercials are pure gold. Imagine Richard Nixon running as a peacemaker with a plan for peace with honor in Vietnam. Pictures of wounded American soldiers in that ad contrast sharply with the current Administration’s program of “sanitizing” the Iraq/Afghanistan combat zones. And then there is the veiled racist ad from Independent candidate George Wallace, promoting his anti-busing theme and promise to make it safe for American families to walk their streets and parks at night. There is a shot of the legs of a woman in high-heeled shoes who apparently is going to be attacked by some evil of the night.
The Obama campaign should pay attention to Hubert Humphrey’s ad that belittled Nixon’s running mate, Spiro Agnew. Uncontrolled laughter fills the airwave as a TV screen is shown with the tag, “Agnew for Vice President?” The ad closes with the message, “This would be funny if it weren’t so serious.” It’s a great spot, but we know how the election turned out.
Team Obama should fast-forward to 1988 to the “packaging of Dan Quayle.” It shows Republican image-makers calling Quayle a “disaster.” Another assumed loose cannon Quayle would have been totally programmed after all that rehearsing. Someone else is nervous with the thought of President Quayle. The GOP operatives are impressed with the performance of Democratic candidate Lloyd Bentsen, want Quayle dumped and replaced by Bob Dole. We know how that election tuned out.
Sarah Palin is this year’s Agnew and Quayle—though both had more real-life experience than the woman from Wasilla. Agnew served in WWII and Korea, was Baltimore country executive and then Maryland Governor for two years before tapped by Nixon. Quayle was elected twice to the House and twice to the Senate before joining George Bush I’s ticket. They were heavyweights compared to Alaska’s Governor.
The Democrats in `68 and `88 gained nothing by attacking the GOP VP candidate. Obama will gain nothing in `08 if he follows the example of the campaigns of Humphrey and Dukakis. Palin already has had her 15 minutes of fame. She flopped the Charlie Gibson interview (Steve Coll points out in the current New Yorker that Joe Biden conducted 54 interviews or press conferences during the 14 days of Palin’s nomination and her coming out interview with Gibson). The best hope for Democrats is to “let Sarah be Sarah”—though an appearance by Palin on Oprah Winfrey would certainly be sweet for the Obama campaign.
Hats off to the Museum of the Moving Image (Astoria, Queens) for its Living Room Candidate program. Verizon Foundation bankrolled the show.