“We must either love each other, or we must die.” In 1964, two 60-second political TV spots forever changed the tone of American politics, pointing the way toward today’s madness
We all get the jitters when the current White House occupant starts in on North Korea and “my missile is bigger than your missile” and “if you don’t applaud for me, you’re committing treason.” These jitters were only exacerbated by his recent demand for a Soviet-style military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Let’s all take a deep breath and consider the following: His is not the first politician’s voice to send antsy Americans scattering for the bomb shelters. The most obvious parallel to current events took place in 1964 when the Committee to Re-elect Lyndon Johnson was warning the nation about his Republican presidential opponent, Sen. Barry Goldwater.
The Republican establishment had wanted Nelson Rockefeller, New York’s popular governor, as their nominee, but Goldwater had accumulated a rabid and sizable following by fulminating about Communists in our midst, calling Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara “an all-time loser,” suggesting that nukes be used in Vietnam, Social Security become “optional,” and other then-extreme positions. Come convention time, like Trump with his “deplorables,” Goldwater could not be denied the GOP presidential nomination.
To counter the threat they saw posed by a Goldwater administration, Pres. Johnson’s team put together a now-legendary TV spot. The ad, which was broadcast only once (on September 7, 1964) exploited the fear generated by Goldwater’s nuke threats. The TV ad opens with a shot of a 3-year-old girl in a meadow, plucking petals from a daisy and counting them as they fall. When she reaches “9”, a man’s voice takes over, counting down from “9” for the launch of a missile armed with a nuclear warhead. The little girl stares in horror at the sky, as the screen fades to black when the countdown reaches zero. After a pause, a mushroom cloud appears on the screen and a solemn voice intones, “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die…Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”
Here is that original television ad:
Though this jarring ad only aired once, before being yanked out of circulation for having jumped the proverbial shark, it was rebroadcast several times on news programs, due to the scandal it unleashed. Johnson won the election by a landslide.
The antecedent for the ad may have been this scene from the original Frankenstein movie (1931) in which the “monster” comes upon a sweet little girl near a pond. Charmed by her innocence and lack of fear, the monster creeps forward and takes the flower proffered by the girl. Then they play by tossing their flowers into the pond. Then he tosses the little girl in the pond.
Here’s the scene:
After the initial backlash over the daisy ad faded, Pres. Johnson’s election committee put together a second incendiary TV spot. This one also featured a little girl, only this time she was licking an ice cream cone. The same insinuation—that a Goldwater presidency would unleash nuclear Armageddon—was being used, but “softened” somewhat by the more satirical message about “Strontium-90 and Cesium-137” being bad for children’s health.
Here’s that ad, produced by the same media team:
The precedent set by these two TV ads ushered in a new kind of political gamesmanship. Call it “going negative” or “agitprop,” but the American conservatives never forgot, or forgave, LBJ for his ads. What we see today might even be called “reaping what you sow” and/or “business as usual”.
Curiously, the child actress who played the little girl in the 1964 daisy ad, Monique Corzilius, was enlisted to appear in an ad for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016. The ad, aired in a few “swing states” (Florida, Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina), featured Corzilius revisiting the original daisy ad and explaining who she is, then adding, “The fear of nuclear war that we had as children, I never thought that our children would have to deal with that again.”
Here’s the trailer to a 2014 documentary called Bombs Away: LBJ, Goldwater and the 1964 Campaign that Changed It All, a documentary about how that election led to our present impasse. Corzilius appears in this film, too, talking about that original ad. What goes around comes around.
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