Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics.

Author:German, Kathleen M.
Position:Book review

Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics. By Robert Mann. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011. 179 pp.

Robert Mann's new book develops the historical-political context for the widely recognized Daisy advertisement that captured the essence of the 1964 presidential campaign. According to Mann, it was "the most powerful symbol of a new era of politics" (p. xi). More important, the advertisement signaled a shift in political advertising away from a didactic approach to a form of evoked recall that, itself, reflects the evolution of media.

In his early chapters, Mann revisits the widespread public anxiety over the nuclear buildup in the early 1960s. Stockpiles of weapons that accompanied the arms race, knowledge of detrimental health effects from nuclear testing, and the confrontations in Berlin and Cuba enabled an acute awareness of the potential for nuclear catastrophe in most Americans.

Amid this public paranoia, Barry Goldwater's conservative positions on civil rights, Social Security, and nuclear weapons allowed President Lyndon B. Johnson to appear moderate; reasonable; and, above all, militarily responsible. Goldwater located his candidacy in "the rising tide of conservative dissent" (p. 29). Indeed, while the Republican Party struggled with perceptions of extremism in 1964, the long-term birth pangs of an increasingly robust conservative movement evidenced in the 1980s and beyond are attributable to this origin.

The book then turns to Doyle Dane Bernbach, the New York advertising agency responsible for the innovative "Think Small" Volkswagen campaign as well as the Daisy advertisement. Yet, perhaps more important than the process by which the advertisement took shape is the recognition that media was evolving. The compelling visual images of television transformed political advertising, just as they had earlier revolutionized consumer advertising.

Unlike the Republican Party, the Democratic National Committee shifted from radio to television advertising in key states during the campaign, perhaps, contributing to public identification with the Johnson ticket. Goldwater's heavy reliance on radio and on lengthy, didactic television advertisements reflected an outdated understanding of media and drove voters to alternate programming. In this respect, although Daisy Petals combines previous scholarship with primary documents to focus on the historical-political context...

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