Home > 1968-2008 Campaigns, 1996 Campaign > 1996–Dole Ad on Drugs–Amina Haleem

1996–Dole Ad on Drugs–Amina Haleem

In 1996, illegal drugs and tobacco usage were very big issues in the presidential campaign between returning Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican candidate Bob Dole. The candidates accused each other of contributing negatively to an aspect of the War on Drugs. Dole accused President Clinton of adversely affecting the American youth through his support and usage of marijuana, while Clinton purported that Dole was in fact persuaded to support the production of tobacco by tobacco lobbyists[1]. In the presidential advertisement paid for by the Dole/Kemp campaign, Dole and the Republican Party attacked Bill Clinton’s reputation, character and morals by using “Nicole, a high school junior with short brown hair” as a representation of American youth who were in danger of exemplifying Clinton’s behavior and beliefs on smoking marijuana[2].

Typically, television ads have been used as a quick way to disseminate a small bit of information in favor of one candidate and against the opposing candidate. They have also been known to exaggerate information and even turn the words of the opposition against them by using short sound bites from debates and interviews. Dole criticizes Clinton’s morals, highlighting the fact that he used an illegal substance which in turn encouraged a faceless high school student to want to use it as well. In a debate between the candidates moderated by PBS’s Jim Lehrer, Clinton says he does not think he is responsible for American youth’s usage of drugs and that he had consistently opposed the legalization of drugs in his political career[3]. He supported his defense by referencing the position of Drug Czar that he created to prohibit the illegal entrance of drugs into the U.S. from the Mexican border. The ad uses the prestigious New York Times to obtain quotes from “Nicole” and factual information which supported the Republican attack against Clinton. In the thirty second advertisement, the Republican Party used the famous question posed to Bill Clinton in the 1993 MTV town hall meeting, “If you had it to do over again, would you inhale?” The then governor Clinton replied in the affirmative, but that was also a sound bite which may have been taken out of context. Questions like these from the public also demonstrate candid nature of progressive politics and the changing process of presidential campaigns (in that town hall meeting, Clinton was also asked “boxers or briefs?”)

By casting Clinton in a dark and unfavorable light, Bob Dole is able to capitalize on his preferable characteristics and cleaner history regarding drugs and marijuana to persuade the American public not to support Clinton’s second term. He claims that Clinton was unable to stop the invasion of foreign drugs from crossing U.S. borders and his administration would take a firmer stance on that issue. Dole would have still found criticizing Clinton’s policies on drugs a difficult task considering Clinton highlighted his exorbitant anti-drug budget, support of a death penalty bill for drug lords, and the expansion of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) program in his campaign debate against Dole on October 6, 1966 in Hartford Connecticut.  As a side note, Elizabeth Dole, Bob Dole’s wife, also had a firm stance on illegal drugs and demonstrated her support of the War on Drugs through her activism in politics in the Ronald Reagan Administration and the George H. W. Bush Administration. Both she and her husband advocated for a stronger Mexican border patrol to keep drugs out of the U.S.

The rhetoric in the Dole advertisement against President Clinton’s past history regarding marijuana demonstrates not only a negative attack against his opponent but the rhetoric used portrays President Clinton as unfit to elect for a second term. Dole capitalizes on Clinton’s alleged past use of illegal drugs, accusing him of negatively impacting the American youth. Interestingly, the advertisement mentioned nothing about Dole’s clean history with drugs or his stance in the Drug War. One of Dole’s campaign platforms was his life of the American Dream; his positive family life, his hometown morals, and service to his country, but there is no comparison between himself as the better man and Clinton in the advertisement. Rather, it focuses solely on President Clinton and his foot-in-mouth moment on MTV (when Clinton said he would inhale)[4]. Unfortunately for the Dole, the Clinton Administration had solid support in the Democratic Party and won a substantial number of popular votes and the Electoral College because he could reference the past four years of economic prosperity. The campaign ad rhetoric appeals to the audiences’ ethos, casting President Clinton as an irresponsible and untrustworthy candidate for the 1996 Presidential bid.


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