How's That Again, General?
Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"How's That Again, General?" Stevenson, 1956.
[TEXT: HOW'S THAT AGAIN, GENERAL?]
MALE NARRATOR #1: How's that again, General? In the 1952 campaign the General complained about the cost of living. He promised his televison audience:
EISENHOWER [clip]: If people can afford less butter, less fruit, less bread, less milk...Yes, it's time for a change.
MALE NARRATOR #1: How's that again, General?
EISENHOWER [clip]: Yes, it's time for a change.
ESTES KEFAUVER: This is Estes Kefauver. The General's promise to bring down prices was another broken promise. Since the Republicans took office the cost of living has reached its highest point in history. Today the consumer can buy less food, less housing, less clothing, less medical care than he could in nineteen hundred and fifty-two for the same money. The General promised a change for the better, and we got shortchanged for the worse. Think it through.
[TEXT: Vote For STEVENSON, KEFAUVER, WAGNER. Vote Row "B" Nov. 6.]
MALE NARRATOR #2: Vote for Stevenson, Kefauver, Wagner and your local Democratic candidates. Vote Row "B."
In the first campaign ads that referred to previous ads, the series of 1956 ads “How’s That Again, General?” replayed excerpts from Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 spots. Vice-presidential candidate Estes Kefauver then explained how Eisenhower hadn't kept his promises.
Barry Goldwater supported a number of admittedly extreme positions in 1964, including the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson’s ad “Merely Another Weapon” used this statement to raise the specter of nuclear annihilation, a crucial anxiety at the time.
When George McGovern dropped Thomas Eagleton as his running mate after declaring his “1,000 percent” support for the candidate, he opened himself to charges of being a “flip-flopper,” as shown in the ad “McGovern Turnaround,” a standard variation on a common theme.
Jimmy Carter’s ad “Flipflop” is an example of the ineffectiveness of his attempts to portray Ronald Reagan as a warmonger. The ad showed that a statement about nuclear proliferation made by Reagan during the presidential debate in late October was contradicted by a statement he made at a news conference in January. However, the point was too subtle, and Reagan’s manner too reassuring, to make the attack stick.
Much more effective was the George Bush 1988 ad “Tank Ride,” which turned a staged photo opportunity by the Dukakis campaign into a public-relations disaster, ridiculing the notion of Dukakis as commander in chief. Here, it wasn’t the candidate’s words that backfired, but a photo opportunity.
Attacks on Bill Clinton’s integrity were a staple of Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign. With the economy in good shape, Dole instead focused on questioning Clinton’s character, with such ads as “Riady,” which used statistics to rebut claims made by the president, thus portraying him as untrustworthy.
Al Gore was frequently mocked by his opponents and the media in 2000 for supposedly claiming that he had invented the Internet. Gore’s statements are the target of sarcasm in the ad “Really MD.”
The ultimate flip-flop ad used the elitist sport of windsurfing as the perfect visual metaphor for the idea of a candidate whose positions shift according to the wind of political expediency.
On September 15, the day of the Lehman Brothers bank collapse and a 500-point drop in the Dow Jones average, John McCain said at a campaign event that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." The Obama campaign seized on this instantly, releasing an ad the next day which repeats McCain's words several times.