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By Will Howell–Campaign Songs, Past & Present

Irving BerlinThe first time I heard this song, it ran through my head for days. Days. If I’d been able to vote in 1952, this song would certainly have run through my brain while I stood in the voting booth. The song was written for the Man from Abilene by the great Irving Berlin (left), who gave us such earworms as “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and (of course) “God Bless America.”

While praise is due to Mr. Berlin for Eisenhower’s catchy campaign song, I’d contrast the success of Ike’s original campaign song with the decision to pair original lyrics with familiar melodies. For a modern comparison of this latter composition, I’d point you to Lyndon Johnson’s campaign song, which paired the melody from the title song of Hello, Dolly! with pro-Johnson lyrics. (Hello Dolly! premiered in 1964, the same year Johnson faced reelection.)

Although there are no doubt earlier examples, I first noticed this propensity when we read The Log Cabin and Hard Cider Melodies (1840) for class. This book, along with several others, provided many, many options for singing supporters of Old Tippecanoe (and Tyler, too).While some were set to folk melodies I knew, many were not. (And if you’ve heard of “Turn out, Giovanni, turn out”…well, I’d like to play on your trivia team some time.)

John FremontThe years following Harrison’s election include many similar examples:

In “’We Want Yer, McKinley’: Epideictic Rhetoric in Songs from the 1896 Presidential Campaign,” William Harpine also noted that, ““Marching Through Georgia” seems to have had extensive appeal as a melody for campaign songs,” particularly in the 1896 election (79).

Although Harpine doesn’t note regional differences, I wonder whether the anti-Southern song was the most effective melody for a national campaign. In 1972, James Irvin and Walter Kirkpatrick argued that music’s rhetorical power came from both melodies and lyrics. They theorized that when familiar—and well-liked—melodies accompanied unfamiliar lyrics, the listener was primed to develop positive feelings toward the lyrics. In using the melody of a song that, in its original form, celebrated Sherman’s March to the Sea, campaigns in the Gilded Age may have—intentionally or unintentionally—alienated a whole region of voters.

Campaign Song GreeleyHorace Greeley (song cover sheet, left) puts my point more succinctly in The Log-Cabin Songbook: “People like the swing of the music. After a song or two, they are more ready to listen to the orators” (quoted from Robert Gunderson, “Presidential Canvass, Log-Cabin Style,” Today’s Speech 5 (1957): 19). Or if they don’t “like the swing of music,” maybe they’re not “more ready to listen to the orators.”

1952–Nixon “Checkers” Speech–Sarah Martin

For my first two posts I focused on one of the technological advances that made the 1952 important- television advertisements. Although a turning point for modern campaigning, there was more to this election than cartoon characters and crooning ladies. For my final blog post I went with the well-known “Checkers” speech given on Septmber 23, 1952. I wanted to analyze the reasoning behind Vice-Presidential candidate Richard Nixon’s willingness to appear on air and what made this speech so successful. From Dwight Eisenhower’s willingness to have thrown him under the bus if this had not worked, to his complete and total honesty, to his ability to connect with the common man through this speech, Nixon turned questionable circumstances into a vote of confidence in his legitimacy.

Although it seems Nixon may have gone above and beyond any expectation of how he should have dealt with this, he probably felt the pressure from Eisenhower for this to eliminate any doubt of his innocence. The basic premise was this: there were possible undocumented gifts in the accounting of a campaign fund for Nixon. From this speech, Nixon was hoping that viewers would pressure the Republican National Committee (RNC) into keeping him on the ticket. Eisenhower, obviously, kept Nixon on the ticket and, allegedly the next time they saw each other, Eisenhower is quoted as telling Nixon, “Dick, you’re my boy.”

But how was Nixon able to turn allegations into support in a short, 30-minute speech? He was honest. He summed it up well in his first few lines, “Now, the usual political thing to do when charges are made against you is to either ignore them or to deny them without giving details. I believe we have had enough of that in the United States, particularly with the present administration in Washington D.C.” From there, he outlined literally the entirety of his financial status. The audience of about 60 million heard any and every detail of his finances from his two mortgages, to his wife’s, Pat, salary. The most notable detail, and the namesake of the speech, is his acknowledgement of the gift of “Checkers,” a dog given to his daughter, “It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl-Tricia, the 6-year old-named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.” By going through every line item, big or small, living or inanimate, wet-nosed or made of cloth, Nixon was able to dismiss any doubt about the legality of his campaign fund.

This speech was not only successful because of its acquittal of Nixon, but also because Nixon was able to transition from defendant back to politician through connecting with the common man and attacking Adlai Stevenson’s abilities to do just that. The Eisenhower campaign was notorious for its ability to relate to the everyman. This speech is no different. Throughout his own defense, Nixon talks about his modest means, and then, during his attack on Stevenson, compares Nixon’s knowledge of the middle class with Stevenson’s image as being too connected with the Washington elite, “Take the problem of corruption. You’ve read about the mess in Washington. Mr. Stevenson can’t clean it up because he was picked by the man, Truman, under whose Administration the mess was made.”

Nixon went from the possibility of being dropped from the ticket, to addressing an excited crowd of 3,000 the following day. He carefully shifted any speculation about his finances, to speculation of not only Stevenson’s own finances, but his ability to lead the country, and view certain issues with enough importance. He did this while also making his audience feel as though, if Eisenhower were elected, the average citizen would finally have a voice in Washington, through Nixon himself. Although he became a proven crook years later, Nixon was able to keep his innocence and his vice-presidential candidacy alive through this speech. 

Postscript: Checkers lived a long and healthy life, dying at age 12 in 1964. May you rest in peace, Checkers. 

Links:

http://watergate.info/nixon/checkers-speech.shtml

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/416465/Richard-M-Nixon/214052/Vice-presidency?anchor=ref672599

http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2008/01/17/the-dog-carries-the-day-for-nixon

1952–Stevenson’s Song Ads

From COMM 458 student Sarah Martin:

I Love the Gov“I’d rather have a man with a hole in his shoe/Than a hole in everything he says./I’d rather have a man who knows what to do/When he gets to be the Prez./I love the Gov’, the Governor of Illinois./He is the guy that brings the dove of peace and joy./When Illinois the GOP double-crossed,/He is the one who told all the crooks, “Get lost.”/Adlai, love you madly,/And what you did for your own great state,/You’re gonna do for the rest of the 48./Didn’t know much about him before he came,/But now my heart’s a ballot that bears his name./’Cause listen to what he has to say,/I know that on election day,/We’re gonna choose the Gov’ that we love./He is the Gov’ nobody can shove./We’ll make the Gov’ president of the you, the me and the U.S.A.”

Music Man–“Vote Stevenson, Vote Stevenson/A man you can believe-in-son./From Illinois whence Lincoln came,/His leadership has won him fame./A soldier man is always found/To think in terms of battlegrounds/But Stevenson, Civilian-son,/Will lead us till the peace is won”

Just by glancing at the map of the Electoral College votes from the 1952 election, it is noticeable that it was a pretty decisive victory in favor of Dwight Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson. Although the popular vote turns out to be closer than it would have seemed from the Electoral College votes (Eisenhower’s 54.9% to Stevenson’s 44.4%), there was one demographic that Eisenhower was especially popular amongst. According to Kennesaw State University, more women than men voted for Eisenhower. In fact, Eisenhower earned over a ten-point advantage over Stevenson for the female vote making this election a notable one according to an article by Gallup.

When I stumbled across a series of videos starring a scantily clad woman singing songs entitled “I Love the Gov,” and “Music Man,” I had to stop and wonder the motives of this rhetoric. I believe that these pieces were designed to drive home points about his experience, create the illusion of a visible female backing, and to appeal to a more “everyman” crowd.

In both “I Love the Gov” and “Music Man” this same woman (who I could not, despite many different searches, find any information on) sultrily belts out tidbits on his credentials to be president. She ensures that her audience knows that she “love[s] the Gov’, the Governor of Illinois,” and that we know that is “from whence Lincoln came.” As governor, he was popular. He was most notable for his improvement of state highways and being a friend to the police. When the current president, Harry Truman, decided he would not seek reelection (possibly due to the fact that his disapproval ratings were in the high 60 percent range), Stevenson’s popularity caused a “Draft Stevenson” movement in the Democrat party; this was the year of drafting candidates! It led to his nomination and acceptance of the nomination at the Democratic National Convention. This advertisement was more than likely trying to piggyback on the popularity Stevenson had within his own party: Democrats did believe he was a man you could “believe in…son.”

A hint of cleavage. This is what is visible on this 1952 century songstress. That may even produce some scandal in a modern campaign. So, why her? My belief is that he wanted to give the impression of having varying demographics represented in his campaign rhetoric. This could be a result of Eisenhower’s popularity among females. With her, it makes it seem that at lease one woman is, well, attracted to his intelligence and influence. According to Kennesaw State University, the issues Stevenson was campaigning for were not as pertinent to the everyday lives of woman as Eisenhower’s stumping for stronger families and even used imagery tailored to females, “He implied that if housewives could balance the household budget, then so could the government.  Ike felt Washington could be cleaned out again as a woman cleans house” (KSU). The Stevenson campaign could have been trying to create interest from women if they saw a seemingly strong, independent woman belting out tunes in favor of him. Or, maybe, Stevenson was trying to attract more men to the campaign with, what else, a hint of breasts. Either way, Stevenson was trying to appeal to someone.

More generally, that “someone” could be the “everyman” that Eisenhower just naturally attracted. While Eisenhower was in tune with his audience and able to connect through family based, simple examples, Stevenson was not. In fact, that was not his strong suit to the point where he was given the nickname of “egg head” due to his baldhead and his pedantic speaking. To say these two videos have elementary lyrics is an understatement. Perhaps this was a way to insert himself more into mainstream, popular culture, because, do not forget: “Stevenson, civilian-son, will lead us till the peace is won.”

These songs really do try their darndest to be catchy. However, today and, most likely back then, it comes across as trying too hard. Although Stevenson was attempting to appeal to a larger audience than what his pedagogic speaking style could afford him, this first foray into television advertisements was not as successful as “I Like Ike” from my previous post (still stuck in my head after a week!). Stevenson is oft referred to as having been “too smart” for the American public to be received well (I will ignore the insult that provides to Eisenhower). Maybe he should have embraced that trait in his commercials because nothing could have outdone “Get in step with Ike.” Yes, that even includes “But now my heart’s a ballot that bears his name.” 

Sources:

http://www.kennesaw.edu/pols/3380/pres/1952.html

http://www.gallup.com/poll/2884/big-gender-gap-distinguishes-election-2000.aspx

http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1952

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxYDTTNYMic

1952–“I Like Ike” Cartoon Ad

From COMM 458 student Sarah Martin:

For my first example of campaign rhetoric from the election of 1952, I elected to go with the obvious.One of the first things to come to mind when President Dwight Eisenhower is mentioned is the famous slogan “I like Ike.” Paired with that slogan in 1952 was this animated video in which a parade of people marches off to Washington, D.C. in a show of support for Eisenhower’s campaign. This campaign piece is still remembered to this day for its simplicity, its correct portrayal of his supporters, and its use of the mass media.

President Dwight Eisenhower’s nickname was Ike. Sometimes you just luck out, huh? In an era where the Korean War was losing support, the Cold War seemed to be heating up again, and President Harry Truman had a disapproval rating of 66 percent, people responded to the concept of ‘liking’ their candidate. Although it was simple, it was catchy and it corresponded well with his other slogan: “Korea, Communism and Corruption.” Because people had such strong feelings against those terms, liking Ike became a positive antithesis. And people really did seem to like him. He was a hero of WWII and later went on to lead the new NATO forces in Europe right before his run for president. So when he spoke on issues such as the Cold War or the Korean War people listened. Winning a decisive victory in the Electoral College in both of his races against Adlai Stevenson, Eisenhower remained a popular president and was even voted to be the “Most Admired American” in 1968 by a Gallup poll. So, simple as it may sound, people really liked him and, thus, the slogan stuck.

This short commercial was also successful because it accurately portrayed the excitement and dedication many of his supporters had for both Eisenhower and his campaign. The idea that a crowd would “take Ike to Washington” seemed to literally be the case. Anywhere he went, crowds were. He was known, at least during his campaigning for president, as a communicator who was able to connect with his audiences. While Adlai Stevenson often came across as pedantic, Eisenhower made sure to speak in a manner understandable to all. The fervor surrounding his campaign was evident even before the primary. The “I Like Ike” slogan started when people began attempts to “draft” him to run for presidency. Many did not like the other option in the Republican Party at the time, Robert Taft, senator from Ohio, and the movement gained so much strength that Eisenhower formed an advisory team and, subsequently, decided to run after Taft refused to support collective security with Europe. From the grassroots first convincing him to run for president to them sticking with him throughout the campaign, the portrayal of them in the video was dead on. They seemed to be in lockstep with his views and believed that a vote for him would be a vote for progress not seen during the twenty years of Democrat control, “Adlai goes the other way. We’ll all go with Ike.”

“I Like Ike” was created by a Madison Avenue executive (although I am sure not as good looking as Don Draper), written by the famous Irving Berlin (left), and produced by Roy Disney. Before turned into a commercial, it appeared in one of Berlin’s musicals (two years before he announced he would be running) and then sung by a Broadway actor at a rally for Eisenhower. Many call him the first major candidate to use campaign advertisements on television. After this, candidates would now have to be even more careful of image. By doing this advertisement in this way Eisenhower looked popular. Although his campaign used them as well, Stevenson seemed bitter at the success Eisenhower had with his advertisements: “The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process” (Stevenson, 1956). To me, this signifies the success Eisenhower had with them!

This piece of rhetoric exemplifies the 1952 election. Eisenhower was, in one sense, a common man, but he was so revered for his service that people idolized him. He appealed to the American sensibility and backed up his ideas with experience and credentials. In addition to an unsurpassed personal popularity, his simple eloquence in articulating his views was enough to catapult him to the White House.