Home > 1968-2008 Campaigns, 1988 Campaign > 1988–“Tank” Ad–Jared Owens

1988–“Tank” Ad–Jared Owens

During the Presidential election race of 1988, the Cold War was on everyone’s mind. The security of the United States was a priority for this country, and Dukakis was criticized for being “weak” and opposed to defense legislation. Being relaxed on national defense legislation at that point in time was inappropriate for someone trying and run for commander-in-chief. For example, he promised to weaken the SDI program that Reagan had proposed, which takes out nuclear ballistic missiles. To respond to these accusations and rumors of his softness concerning the defense of the country, Dukakis created the key image of his campaign – although a negative one.

On September 13, 1988, Dukakis visited the General Dynamics plant in Michigan to stage a photo op in an M1 Abrams tank. He thought this would be a good idea because earlier, in 1986, the UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher had done the same thing, and it helped. The reaction of the American public, however, was not what Dukakis had in mind, to say the least (BBC).

The Bush campaign used the images from Dukakis’s photo op to provide evidence on how Dukakis would not make a good commander-in-chief. In one of the Bush’s campaign ads, Dukakis is filmed riding around in a tank while the narrator says, “He opposed new aircraft carriers. He opposed anti-satellite weapons. He opposed four missile systems, including the Pershing II missile deployment. Dukakis opposed the stealth bomber, a ground emergency warning system against nuclear testing. He even criticized our rescue mission to Grenada and our strike on Libya. And now he wants to be our commander in chief. America can’t afford that risk.”

By the end of the fiasco, Dukakis was mocked by his opponents for looking so ridiculous in the pictures. “Dukakis in the tank” even became shorthand for a backfired public relations outing!

The Dukakis campaign directly countered “Tank Ride” with the ad “Counterpunch.” When the Dukakis response ad appeared on the news, cultural historian Kiku Adatto described it as “a quintessentially modernist image of artifice upon artifice: television news covering a Dukakis commercial containing a Bush commercial containing a Dukakis media event (Living Room Candidate).” This political blunder was just one of a few huge mistake Dukakis made during his campaign for the Presidency.





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