Frank Rich Goes Nuclear

In his latest New York piece, Frank Rich recommends that the Obama campaign go full-tilt negative against Mitt Romney (R-Self Import).

Nuke ’Em

Why negative advertisements are powerful, essential, and sometimes (see “Daisy”) even artistic.

On the issue of the classic “Daisy” ad from the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater campaign, Rich has this to say:

[Obama] would be wise to seriously reexamine the history of a spot so effective that it’s the only aspect of the entire LBJ-Goldwater race that anyone remembers. The latest volume of Robert Caro’s epic life of Lyndon Johnson stops just short of the 1964 election. But last fall, Robert Mann, a journalist and historian with a relevant previous career seeped in the cauldron of Louisiana politics, got there first withDaisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds, an enterprising book meticulously reconstructing the genesis and impact of this very brief, very devastating piece of film. Mann’s account is all the more instructive when read in the context of 2012. Paradoxically, the most famous attack ad in history stands apart from many of those that followed it—including most produced today—by containing no facts or even factoids, no quotes, no argument, no image of either candidate, and not even a mention of the target’s name. And yet its power remains awesome to behold. It finished Goldwater . . .

The spot itself:


For a comprehensive history of the spot (although not certified by the hardworking staff), see here.

A couple of things we do know:

The Daisy ad worked because the Johnson campaign had set the scene with these ads (via Living Room Candidate):


And this one.

We also know the PBSainted Bill Moyers played a pivotal role in the creation of the Daisy ad, something he later came to regret.

Via Democratic

On Ring of Fire, David Bender told Mike Papantonio that Bill Moyers was the one who was responsible for the controversial ad, and that LBJ was completely unaware of it, until it aired. It was aired only once, but scared people so bad, that we still talk about it.

Moyers regretted it later: “We advanced the technology and the power far beyond what is desirable for political dialogue. We didn’t foresee the implications of serious messages in such an abbreviated form. Our use of the commercial was regrettable. The Frankenstein we helped to build is loose in the world.”

There’s also this exchange between Moyers and Jane Hall of the Los Angeles Times in James Twitchell’s invaluable 20 Ads That Shook the World:

Q. When you were an aide to Lyndon Johnson, did you approve the infamous “Daisy” commercial?

A. Yes I did, and I regret that we were on the first wave of the future. The ad was intended to remind voters of Johnsons prudence; it wasn’t meant to make you think that Barry Goldwater was a war monger . . .

That’s total crap. From a 2008 New York Times piece:

For raw, crushing smear power, the “Daisy” ad, made for President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 campaign and suggesting that the election of the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater, would mean the end of life on earth, has never quite been equaled.

That’s about right.

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5 Responses to Frank Rich Goes Nuclear

  1. Curmudgeon says:

    I saw that ad in 1964. The message as unmistakable and unmistakably intentional. It also showed the lengths to which politicians would stoop to get power, or those in power would stoop to keep it.

    By 1968, Johnson was loathed for his conduct of the Vietnam war.

    No doubt that the ad was effective, but did it lead to the right choice of President?

  2. Michael Pahre says:

    The Republican Disunity ad could easily be copied nearly verbatim today, only substituting suitable quotations from Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Obama campaign had a handful of such ads sitting on their laps — waiting to use them when the time is right.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Yeah, Mike – except nobody would sit through it. The remarkable thing about that spot is how literary it is (“. . . and I quote . . .”), a reflection of TV’s transition from a print culture to a visual culture (see “Daisy”).

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