1972 Nixon VS. McGovern

"Nixon the Man"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Nixon the Man," Nixon, 1972

MALE NARRATOR: The 38th President of the United States is Richard Nixon. Most of us see him only as a public figure. In this film, we can glimpse the private man, at work and in his relaxed moments, the man so few people know.

(Audience applause and cheers)

NIXON: Now ladies and gentlemen—

(Audience laughter)

Please don't go away.

(Audience laughter)

Duke, Duke was asking earlier if I would play, and I said I had never done so yet in the White House, but it did occur to me as I looked at the magnificent program you prepared for us that one number was missing. You see, this is his birthday. Now-

(Audience laughter)

Duke Ellington is ageless, but would you all stand and sing Happy Birthday to him and please in the key of G?

(Audience laughter)

(Nixon playing piano)

Audience (singing): Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear...

MAN: We don't have any assurance that if we put federal money into that reform that property taxes are going to go down in the localities.

NIXON: Well, then, we won't accept it.

MAN: But I want just-

NIXON: No. What's the matter with these clowns? The whole purpose of this is to get property taxes down, not to increase the budgets for local officials to continue to raise property taxes.

MAN: Well, that's what I thought you'd say.

NIXON: And, and unless you put the heat on these local officials, they'll just take the money and pour it into all their pet projects and not get the project that's-

MAN: Well, that's, that's what's happening-

NIXON: That's not the way it's going to be.

MAN: Okay. Good.

NIXON: That's not the way it's going to be.

(Wedding music)

(Wedding reception music)

NIXON: On that thing we were discussing this morning, I wanted to be sure that you got off a, a telephone call preferably, a message if necessary, to Connally. Right, what did he, what did he, think about the, the, the British action and so forth, and what did he think about the possibility of a European block? I suppose he went up the wall, no? ... The other thing, too, is, he's got to think of the Latin Americans. If he cancels his trip because of this little blip - it could be a very big one in the international monetary thing - it'll be again, well, here the Americans only care about Europe and don't care about us. I told him it would be a very grave mistake for him to cancel his trip or to postpone it at this point. He ought to go down there, and then if something else develops, we'll bring him back.

NIXON: I expressed my appreciation to my Chinese voice, to Mrs. Chang. I listened to her translation. She got every word right.

(Audience laughter and applause)

NIXON: No, you typed it. Come on. Mrs. Chang.

(Chang speaking in Chinese)

MALE NARRATOR: Richard Nixon, a man of compassion, courage and conscience, a man America needs, now more than ever.



"Nixon the Man," Committee to Re-elect the President, 1972

Maker: The November Group

Video courtesy of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1972/nixon-the-man (accessed July 25, 2024).


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1972 Nixon McGovern Results

In 1971, President Nixon’s approval rating fell below 50 percent. Despite his 1968 promises to end the Vietnam War, the conflict was dragging on. At home, inflation and unemployment were rising. Nixon restored his popularity through several actions: he took unprecedented diplomatic trips to China and Russia; stepped up efforts to end the war by ordering the bombing of Hanoi; instituted wage and price controls; and ended the draft, partly because of the recent lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18. Nixon’s opponent, South Dakota Senator George McGovern, who won his party’s nomination with a grassroots campaign sparked by the antiwar movement, called for withdrawal from Vietnam and a significant reduction in military spending. McGovern named as his running mate Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, who, shortly after the convention, revealed that he had been hospitalized for depression and had received shock therapy. McGovern dropped him from the ticket and replaced him with former ambassador R. Sargent Shriver. The incident created an impression of ineptitude. McGovern was also unable to convince the public of any connection between the Nixon administration and the June break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex.

Richard Nixon for president
Spiro Agnew for vice president

"President Nixon. Now More Than Ever"

No incumbent president has used television advertising more effectively than Richard Nixon in 1972. His ad campaign was a two-pronged attack depicting Nixon as a successful world leader and McGovern as a reckless liberal. Nixon’s positive ads used documentary techniques to give voters a glimpse inside the White House, with scenes of Nixon at state dinners, in meetings with world leaders, and at work in the Oval Office. The documentary style gave the spots a feeling of intimacy and authenticity, and created the impression that voters were getting a privileged view. The ads also attempted to humanize Nixon, who was widely perceived as cold and humorless, by showing him in relaxed moments playing the piano for Duke Ellington, dancing with his daughter at her wedding, and joking with Chinese translators.

Nixon’s most effective commercials, however, were attack ads. One spot ridiculed McGovern’s proposed defense cuts by using the stark image of a hand sweeping away toy soldiers, planes, and warships. Another claimed that McGovern would put 47 percent of the country on welfare. Though created by the Republican campaign, these ads were credited to "Democrats for Nixon," a strategy meant to create the impression that McGovern’s liberal views put him outside the mainstream of his own party.

Nixon’s ads were produced by the November Group, a virtual all-star team of advertising executives headed by Peter Dailey, who ran his own Los Angeles agency, Phil Joanou from Doyle Dane Bernbach, William Taylor from Ogilvy and Mather, and an advisory board of executives from many top agencies.

George McGovern for president
Sargent Shriver for vice president

"McGovern. Democrat. For the People"

The style of McGovern’s ads reflected the populist nature of his campaign. The candidate was filmed in informal encounters with voters in factories, meeting halls, hospitals, and senior-citizen centers. The spots were produced by Charles Guggenheim, the documentary filmmaker who had made many of Adlai Stevenson’s ads in 1956. In his commercials for McGovern, Guggenheim used cinéma vérité techniques. Photographed with a handheld camera and portable sound equipment, the ads were designed to look casual and spontaneous in deliberate contrast with the stately aura surrounding Nixon’s presidency. The ads succeeded in portraying McGovern as compassionate, but they did not make him look presidential.

McGovern had wanted to avoid negative ads, but he changed his mind late in the campaign in reaction to his poor standing in the polls. The attack ads against Nixon were delivered with a "crawl" of white text against a black background. This stark presentation of claims in a seemingly neutral style is now a common technique in political and product advertising.

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