Playlist John Dickerson
The Living Room Candidate
"Oval Office," Dukakis, 1988
MALE NARRATOR: The most powerful man in the world is also mortal. We know this all too well in America. One in five American vice presidents has had to rise to the duties of Commander-in-Chief. One in five has had to take on the responsibilities of the most powerful office in the world. For this job, after five months of reflection, George Bush made his personal choice: J. Danforth Quayle.
MALE NARRATOR [and TEXT]: Hopefully, we will never know how great a lapse of judgment that really was.
"Oval Office," Dukakis-Bentsen Comm, Inc., 1988
Maker: Scott Miller
Original air date: 09/22/88Video courtesy of Northeastern University Libraries, Michael Dukakis Presidential Campaign Records.
From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1988/oval-office (accessed April 2, 2023).
Little has changed in politics over the past 60 years. Eisenhower’s pitch to white women (“Women Voters”) is striking for its time-capsule feel (Mom in charge of everything; Dad in charge of aloof paper-reading), but also reminds us that white women have been the swing constituency for a very long time. Candidates are still trying to show they connect with regular people—John Kennedy sits on the couch in the Sills’ home, Ford has a heart-to-heart with the kids, and we see George H.W. Bush playing with his family to show his softer side.
This effort to show empathy with regular people has made us all soft, I fear. Michael Dukakis’s ad raising questions about Dan Quayle is not subtle (what ad with a beating heart is?) but it’s a fair ad. George Bush would be called a fearmonger for the “Crisis B” ad he ran in 1992, but instead of umbrage, opponents should respond as Goldwater did in 1964 to the famous “Daisy” ad. He fought back hard, which clarified the debate (unfortunately for Goldwater, it was not to his advantage, as the jittery, stressed-out Republican tells us in the Johnson ad “Confessions of a Republican”). Our presidential ads today are less tough and less fair. If candidates were tougher, they’d have to make ads that didn’t include made-up facts, and it would force us all to think a little more sharply about what’s at stake in this election.