Nervous about Nixon Goldwater McCain?

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

Alex Massie at The Debatable Land has been digging through the video archives of the Museum of the Moving Image at The Living Room Candidate. It’s a website devoted to historical campaign commercials, and “contains more than 300 commercials, from every presidential election since 1952.” And he’s come up with some true gems.

There’s classics like the relentlessly cheerful, ferociously flirty lounge singer doing her thing for Adlai Stevenson: “I love the Gov!“. (Sarah Palin didn’t invent the polit-power of the wink, you know.) There’s a bit of scare-mongering anno 1992 that made Massie quip, “Verily, Arkansas is a land visited by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. There’s a Barry Goldwater ad that starts off with 30 seconds of cult mayhem that would suit the best of Russ Meyer movie trailers; any moment you expect a warning about She-Devils on Wheels.

A strong contender for the most amazing find is the surprisingly psychedelic, hippie-go-lucky sing-a-long “Nixon Now” from 1972. An eerie illustration of the ad world’s reality inversion … catchy, though. (Weirdly enough, now is the website of a watch brand.) That one is overwhelmed still in the cutesy stakes by “the jaunty music and the fab 70s kitsch” of a Ford commercial from four years later – and much of it could have been a seventies ad for the car brand. (Bonus feel-good points for the unabashed inclusion of sundry happy ugly people: no shame of the natural back then! It’s like walking into a remote Slovak village.)

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of relativation, too. You thought Hillary’s 3 AM ad was an outrageous bit of scare-mongering? Ha! Nixon would have shown her a thing or two. You think McCain’s panders to evangelical America are worrying? Carter offered the real thing. Imagine the outcry if Republicans would air ads like those today.

But two of the ads Massie dug up stand out. Two videos that evoke distant eras, and yet are as topical as ever before. In fact, the Obama campaign could run touched up versions of them right now.

One is possibly the shortest political commercial I’ve ever seen; the other is a full four minutes long. One has a snappy, pithy message; the other shows an anonymous, intellectual voter holding forth in meandering, reflective fashion. One is from 1956, the other from eight years later. One targeted Nixon, the other Goldwater – but both could easily be addressing John McCain or today’s Republican Party.

Nervous about Nixon?

Short and sweet. The Republicans are fielding an unpredictable candidate with a volatile temper; they’ve nominated a vice-presidential candidate who’s popular with the party’s base but scares many moderates. In short, nervous about McCain Palin Nixon? Followed by a slogan for the ages: “Vote Democratic, the party for you, not just the few”. Goes well with this chart.

Confessions of a Republican

An ad as sublimely quaint and unthinkable in our age when it comes to form as it would be a propos in terms of substance. A man who would be the very model of the disdained “effete intellectual” to today’s real and faux-populist conservatives addresses the camera, with hesitation, pensively but certainly not without vanity, in what the New Yorker, decades later, described as “a stream-of-consciousness narrative, almost Joycean”.

“I dont know just why I wanted to call this a confession,” he starts out, “I certainly dont feel guilty about being a Republican.” This is a serious man, obviously, from a serious family of unwavering Republicans. From New England maybe? A classical Republican, a – dare I say it – elite Republican. He voted for Eisenhower and for Nixon. “But,” he folds his hands together carefully, “when it comes to Senator Goldwater..”.

He gets to the point quickly, in style with a campaign that was heavy on attacks (remember the daisy ad?): “This man scares me.” A Republican candidate who’s all too reckless, who’s irresponsible — and here the man ponders, then dismisses a bon mot (“the White House makes the man”). What counts are the men who would be in this candidate’s Cabinet, the “men behind him”, the men who would be his advisors. “And so many men with,” he pauses, “strange ideas are working for Goldwater.”

Now Johnson, on the other hand, is part of the reality-based community “at least is talking about facts.” This policy, that much percent income, such and so concrete a result. Pragmatism. But his Republican counterpart deals in sweeping statements spoken from a fully ideologized world view. His moral certainty and seeming willingness to risk who knows how many lives in its name is simply frightening: “what is that supposed to mean? If he means that people don’t want to fight a nuclear war he’s right, I don’t! When I read some of these things that Goldwater says about ‘total victory’, I get a little worried, you know?” Yes, we know. “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”

The poor man, such an icon of highly-educated, upper-income traditional Republicanism, so dismayed about the ideological radicals that seem to have taken over his party. He elaborately lights a cigarette. “I tell you, those people who got control of that convention..” – he looks at us, unnerved – “who are they?”

Well, fourty years later we can answer his question: they are the men who will take over your party. Who will drive your likes out as RINOs, and will remake the Republican Party in their own image. First Nixon will come back, and embrace the Southern bigots who abandoned the Democrats. Then Reagan will wither against the Evil Empire and usher in an era of big-lending voodoo economics. Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan will become credible primary candidates. Finally, your party will swear allegiance to the faux-ranching, warmongering, born-again conservative populist George Bush Junior, as it feeds on a diet of televised shoutfests and talk radio shows which ridicule everyone who sounds remotely like you. And when Bush fails, the know-nothings that will by then dominate the grassroots of your party will place their last hopes on a know-nothing novice Governor from Alaska, while ranting about the Democratic candidate as a “traitor” or a “terrorist”, shouting “treason!” and “kill him!”

That’s who they are.

“When all these weird groups come out in favour of the candidate of my party,” the man in the ad postulates, either they’re not Republicans or I’m not.” Well, that was a good question in 1964. More than fourty years on, it’s all but settled. Best to meet with Linc Chafee, Jim Leach, Wayne Gilchrest, Jim Jeffords, Lowell Weicker, Linwood Holton, Richard Riordan, Susan Eisenhower and Julie Nixon Eisenhower over dinner, to discuss how best to help Barack Obama be elected.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. chijoe999  •  Oct 12, 2008 @8:28 am

    Bonus feel-good points for the unabashed inclusion of sundry happy ugly people: no shame of the natural back then! It’s like walking into a remote Slovak village.