Never Had It So Good
The “Eisenhower Answers America” ads, conceived and created by Madison Avenue advertising executive Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates and Company, were as bold in conception as they were simple in execution. The campaign created forty “spot ads,” each consisting of a question from an ordinary voter and a response from the candidate. The answers were filmed first, in a midtown Manhattan studio, with General Eisenhower reading off of cue cards. The questions were filmed later, read by tourists who were scouted in front of Radio City Music Hall. Eisenhower is filmed in the elevated position; the questioners all look up at him, establishing a personal connection but also keeping him in the position of the hero. The ads stick to three key points: high prices, the war in Korea, and gridlock in Washington. Yet the spots are clearly selling more than just the answers to these problems; they are selling Eisenhower’s personality. The campaign spent nearly two million dollars to saturate the airwaves with these ads in twelve key states during a three-week period in October. Adlai Stevenson’s campaign manager George Ball decried the effort to sell Eisenhower in the same manner as “soap, ammoniated toothpaste, hair tonic, or bubble gum.” Stevenson was the first—and last—candidate to refuse to appear in TV ads.
Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate - Transcript
"Never Had it So Good," Eisenhower, 1952
[TEXT: EISENHOWER answers AMERICA]
MALE NARRATOR: Eisenhower answers America.
MAN: General, the Democrats are telling me I never had it so good.
EISENHOWER: Can that be true when America is billions in debt, and prices have doubled and taxes break our backs, and we are still fighting in Korea? It's tragic. And it's time for a change.
All elections are about change. That indeed is the whole point of them, and it is always up to the party that is out of power to claim that change is needed. Yet in some years, change seems to be a more urgent priority than in others.
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In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower claimed that with an unpopular war, high prices, and gridlock in Washington, it was time for a change. Candidates in 2008 are making the same claim, for much the same reasons.
While Richard Nixon’s campaign was based on the premise that the Cold War called for steady, experienced leadership, the Kennedy campaign offered an energetic and youthful approach, as expressed in this lively jingle ad.
Following Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation, 1976 was clearly a change election. This ad for President Ford claimed that he had already started to bring about the needed change.
The rural setting and Jimmy Carter’s image as an outsider who could come in and clean up Washington exemplified one of the most common tropes about change in Washington: that it can only be achieved by people from outside of Washington.
This Clinton-Gore ad reflected a spirit of new energy, but also stated that the candidates would bring change to the Democratic Party by moving it to the center on the controversial issues of the death penalty and welfare.
In 2000, with the country in relatively good shape, Texas Governor George Bush argued that a change in tone was needed in Washington because voters felt disappointed in their leaders.
Obama's campaign consistently focused on the message of change, and the idea that he spoke for a movement seeking transformation of the country and its politics. The independently made web video "Yes We Can" exemplified this message, and also exemplified the campaign's use of the Internet.
With his selection of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain sought to shake up the camapaign, and grab the mantle of change for his own candidacy.