An Election-Year Campaign Video That's Kind of Nasty - Macleans.ca
 

An Election-Year Campaign Video That’s Kind of Nasty


 

For some reason I find it interesting that up until the late ’60s, many of the really hardball U.S. campaign advertising tactics now associated with Republicans were more associated with Democrats. (At the national level, at least.) The most famous example is LBJ’s “Daisy” ad, a manipulative, cheerfully unfair commercial designed to tell people that voting for the Republicans will literally destroy the world. Nixon adopted many of these tactics, as did his disciples, while the Democrats moved toward a more touchy-feely type of manipulation (vote for me because I believe in hope, and my opponent hates hope and puppies). In Canada, similarly we frequently hear Conservative ads attacked as being too hard-hitting while Liberal ads are accused of being too soft.

But turn back the clock to 1944, and in a U.S. race between the FDR (running for his fourth freakin’ term) and Thomas Dewey, FDR’s campaign advertising couldn’t be accused of excessive softness. The most famous piece of advertising the campaign produced was the cartoon “Hell-Bent For Election,” which was commissioned from the new independent animation studio, UPA. (It was financed by the United Auto Workers, not officially by the campaign itself, but a lot of famous campaign ads are “third party” ads.) The studio later went on to make the Mr. Magoo cartoons and win acceptance for the use of arty techniques in mainstream animation, but in 1944 they were so understaffed that they mostly relied on moonlighters from other studios: the director, Chuck Jones, did it in his spare time from his regular job with Warner Brothers. Many of the sequences will look familiar to anyone who grew up watching a lot of Chuck Jones cartoons, especially the stylized dream sequence. But as a piece of political advertising, the interesting thing is that it’s really, really hardball: it portrays the Republicans as “defeatists” while the Democrats want to “win the war,” and at one point the conservative businessman morphs into Adolf Hitler. (“War, war! I tell you this is Roosevelt’s war!”) Hitler comparisons, charges of defeatism — in a liberal campaign ad. Nobody’s pure and innocent.


 
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An Election-Year Campaign Video That’s Kind of Nasty

  1. Sigh!…you learn something new everyday. Thankyou JW for dispelling one of the last of my illusions. Leaves me wondering why anybody bothers at all really.

  2. Great find. Negative ads are nothing new. And in some ways the conversation was blunter before.

    I love seeing the whats been used in the past…

    The plots are the same, the devices to illustrate and the media change

  3. I'm unable to view the cartoon.

    • Able to see it now. Thanks Jaime.

  4. "Negative campaigning in the United States can be traced back to lifelong friends, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Back in 1776, the dynamic duo combined powers to help claim America's independence, and they had nothing but love and respect for one another. But by 1800, party politics had so distanced the pair that, for the first and last time in U.S. history, a president found himself running against his VP.

    Things got ugly fast. Jefferson's camp accused President Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” In return, Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. Even Martha Washington succumbed to the propaganda, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was “one of the most detestable of mankind.” Mental Floss, Sept 23 '08

    • I might have guessed you were a reader of Mental Floss. Great magazine for the curious of mind.

      • "Great magazine for the curious of mind."

        Agreed. Awesome mag.

      • Thanks for that. Looks like it would have been an interesting show to watch.

        What interests me is that today's political parties are pikers when it comes to negative campaigning. They used to be much more vicious and slanderous, it's a tea-party by comparison now.

  5. For some reason I find it interesting that up until the late '60s, many of the really hardball U.S. campaign advertising tactics now associated with Republicans were more associated with Democrats.

    Why would that be surprising? "Hardball tactics now associated with Republicans" have always been used in equal measure by Democrats. Their media allies (including, yes, you) have just historically had a blind spot a mile wide when it's their side playing the part of the "Mean Party."

    • He said "interesting" not surprising.

      Non sequitur much? Why do you always seem up pop up with your partisan crap with every post like this?

  6. For some reason I find it interesting that up until the late '60s, many of the really hardball U.S. campaign advertising tactics now associated with Republicans were more associated with Democrats.

    Why would that be surprising? "Hardball tactics now associated with Republicans" have always been used in equal measure by Democrats. Their media allies (including, yes, you) just have a blind spot a mile wide when it's their side playing the part of the "Mean Party."

  7. I thought we already knew this with the "Barry Goldwater will cause a nuclear war" ad.

  8. Um, you're surprised to find Nazi comparisons and accusations of defeatism in a lefty narrative? Democrat Speaker of the House Pelosi's been doing both for years.

  9. Um, you're surprised to find Nazi comparisons and accusations of defeatism in a lefty narrative? Democrat Speaker of the House Pelosi's been doing both for years. You really don't have to go back to 1944 for this stuff.

    The only difference is that lefties tend to maintain a pious holier-than-thou attitude about it.

    • "The only difference is that lefties tend to maintain a pious holier-than-thou attitude about it. "

      And those on the right go all passive-aggressive-whiny about it. It's vaguely sick-making in both cases.

  10. Um, you're surprised to find Nazi comparisons and accusations of defeatism in a lefty narrative? Democrat Speaker of the House Pelosi's been doing both for years.

    The only difference is that lefties tend to maintain a pious holier-than-thou attitude about it.

  11. All this whinging and moaning about partisan advertising, yet nobody has yet spoken up to say what I expected to read in the very first comment:

    that ad was AMAZING!

    It wasn’t just interesting because it was hardball, it was interesting because it married together some of the most talented storytellers of the time and the sort of unabashed liberalism that a modern American “progressive” could only dream of.

    Thanks for finding it.