1996 Clinton VS. Dole
"Pants on Fire"
The Living Room Candidate
"Pants on Fire," Dole, 1996
[TEXT: READ HIS LIPS]
MALE NARRATOR: He promises us one thing.
BILL CLINTON [b&w public address]: I will tell you this. I will not raise taxes on the middle classes.
MALE NARRATOR: He does another.
[TEXT (newspaper headline): Clinton Asks Middle Class to Pay Higher Taxes]
[SUPERTEXT: "Clinton's an unusualy good liar. Unusually good."
MALE NARRATOR: "Bill Clinton is an unusually good liar," says Bob Kerrey, Democrat, US Senator. Clinton says he doubled border agents.
[TEXT: President Clinton doubled border agents]
MALE NARRATOR: The INS says it didn't happen.
MALE NARRATOR: He says Bob Dole voted against reimbursing us for illegal immigration. But Bob Dole sponsored the law to reimburse us.
[TEXT: HR 4603/AMEND. 2357/103RD CONGRESS]
MALE NARRATOR: How much more? Bill Clinton: Unusually Good.
[TEXT: "Clinton's an unusualy good liar. Unusually good."]
"Pants on Fire," Dole Kemp '96, 1996
Original air date: 05/24/96
From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1996/pants-on-fire (accessed March 22, 2023).
Thanks to a robust economy and the absence of divisive foreign-policy issues in the presidential election, Bill Clinton enjoyed a relatively trouble-free ride on his way to becoming the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to be elected to a second full term. Clinton’s victory represented an impressive political comeback. In 1994, Republicans had won control of both houses. Wielding enormous influence, House Speaker Newt Gingrich had forged the Republicans' "Contract with America," a conservative legislative agenda. During intense budget battles between the president and Congress, the federal government was shut down twice. Clinton blamed this on the Republicans, which enabled him to position himself in the center and portray the Republicans as extremists. The Clinton campaign repeatedly linked his opponent Bob Dole to Gingrich, while championing mainstream causes such as the Family Leave Act, college tuition credits, and a ratings system for television. Dole tried, without much success, to use the "character issue" to his advantage. Yet the public showed little interest in Clinton scandals such as "Whitewater," "Filegate," and "Travelgate," and allegations of campaign-finance abuse.
Al Gore for vice president
"Building a Bridge to the 21st Century"
Bill Clinton’s ads consistently associated Bob Dole with House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Grainy black-and-white footage of Dole standing next to Gingrich exploited the public’s disenchantment with the Republican-led Congress following the shutdown of the federal government. In contrast with these ominous images, colorful, upbeat montages outlined Clinton’s achievements in a wide range of social programs. These ads took credit for the robust economy, and also played on the fear that the Republicans' assault on "big government" might threaten programs that the public supported, such as Social Security and education.
Other ads focused on micro-issues, such as Clinton’s support for school uniforms and a TV rating system. Using the phrase "protecting our values" as one of their slogans, the Clinton campaign was able to seize the political mainstream. Clinton’s support of the death penalty and intention to cut welfare were among the traditionally conservative positions heralded in his commercials. Above all, the consistency, high production values, and upbeat nature of the ads reflected competence while subtly raising questions about Dole’s advanced age.
Jack Kemp for vice president
"A Better Man for a Better America"
Bob Dole’s commercials portray him as a war hero and a man of simple integrity, in contrast with Clinton’s questionable morals. However, polls repeatedly showed that, with the economy in good shape, the public was more interested in President Clinton’s job performance than in the numerous minor scandals that had emerged during his first term. Dole’s commercials, inconsistent in message and tone, failed to establish an effective target. One spot,