Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This Time. . .

Like everybody else, the recent campaign had me thinking about political language. There were slogans, phrases, images from the election that are going to be buried in people's heads for the rest of their lives. I come by this knowledge honestly. Years ago my dad used to drive me to school. Torture because every morning, I was treated to his Tourette's-like invocations of old Republican political slogans. So: "I Like Ike" and Barry Goldwater's "In Your Heart You Know He's Right" repeated over and over again. And then he would start riffing, dropping in long pauses: "In your heart (30 second beat as I claw at the dashboard) you knowww he's right."

But his favorite old slogan, bar none was for Richard Nixon. It was three simple words, just "This time. . . Nixon."

Besides the repetition, what drove me crazy was that I could find no evidence that this actually was a Nixon slogan. Eventually, I had a shelf full of books on the 37th President and as far as I could tell, my Dad had just made it up. Then, I found the Living Room Candidate site, found a trove of Nixon's 1968 commercials, and it became clear to me why they'd stuck in his mind all those years. I think they're brilliant.

In the use of still images with narration, they are clearly building on the famous "Daisy Girl" commercial and others from Lyndon Johnson's 1964 campaign. And in context, the meaning of "this time" becomes clearer. Remembering that Nixon had run and lost in 1960, these spots are basically asking the Silent American voter, "How have you enjoyed the Sixties? Want a do over?"

I also think it's interesting how these commercials reinforce the two themes for presidential elections, Stay The Course and Change. A candidate has to pick one. In 1968 (hard as it is for some to believe 40 years later) Richard Nixon was the change guy. If you get caught in between the two, like Hubert Humphrey did in 1968 or McCain did in 2008, you are going to lose. Watching these as the 2008 campaign played out, I was struck how the tone wouldn't have been out of place in Obama's ads. Nixon even struck the hope note in this classic "deal closer" spot probably run in the last week or so of the campaign.

And there's the "Nixon's the One" slogan. Getting back to my Dad, I think the reason he had a special affection for the Republican campaigns was that, being in politics his whole life, he appreciated the work of fellow craftsmen. And if you play with the Living Room Candidate site, it's amazing how rare it is for the Democratic candidate to have a clear advantage in the quality of advertising. LBJ and Obama and I would say that's about it. I've read the suggestion that since they tend to come from business backgrounds, Republican operatives are comfortable with advertising and more tuned into its importance. These ads represent Madison Avenue near its height (the apotheosis probably being Reagan's Morning in America and Bear spots from 1984). And of course, the suggestion has been made that the Obama campaign with its emphasis on online and alternate forms of getting its message out represents a shift to a method of advertising more natural and friendly to Democrats. We'll see. 



Christopher Brown said...

Excellent stuff, Paul. And beautiful ads. I hope this is research for some mind-blowing Paul Miles alternate history...

Rick Klaw said...

Great piece, Paul. But where's the link to the Living Room Candidate site?

Poster Plus said...

I have a poster of "This Time, Nixon"

So, your dad didn't make it up but I'm trying to date it. When were you riding in that car?