John Dickerson at Slate did a video piece showing his favorite vintage political TV ads, and provided a link to a site with others. I didn't watch all of them, but a sampling of ads up to 1976 did evoke a few thoughts.
- If you want some insight into Nixon the political animal, look at the ads from 1952 and 1956. His job was to be Ike's attack dog, savaging the Democrats while Ike smiled and looked like a leader. Stevenson's "Nervous about Nixon?" ad reminds us that there were doubts about Nixon for a long time before Watergate.
- The 1960 debate over experience vs. youth sure seems familiar.
- I don't understand Spanish beyond the words that have been incorporated into the English language, but for some reason the Jackie Kennedy ad is riveting.
- 1964 seems to be a turning point; before then the ads were fairly upbeat, and even the critical ads were fairly tame. The Johnson ads are the first to really resemble what we see today, and some are beyond what anyone would try now.
- The famed daisy girl ad insinuating that electing Goldwater would mean nuclear war and the end of life on earth - it doesn't get much nastier that that.
- The one featuring a KKK leader endorsing Goldwater - what would the Obama campaign do with a KKK leader endorsing McCain? Actually I'm not sure how much meat that would have; I think "of course the scumbags would endorse him instead of the black guy" would be most people's reaction. Now a KKK leader endorsing Obama - that would be an interesting twist, for good or ill.
- Nixon vs. Humphrey 1968; the ground is broken on the path U.S. politics still follows. The Nixon ads - us vs. them, law and order over all, divide-and-conquer. You could use those scripts today; some do. The Humphrey ad making fun of Agnew could be recycled quite easily today as well.
- 1976 This isn't really about the ads themselves, but a thought that came to mind while looking at them: when I remember what the country was like at the time, I can't help but think that whoever won that election was probably screwed. When Harold Macmillan was asked what represented the greatest challenge for a statesman, he replied "Events, my dear boy, events." Events of the time were overtaking the ability of just about anyone to deal with them. They were going to have to run their course, and the President overseeing it was going to take a beating. Part of me wonders if that's going to be the case in 2008.