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By Taylor Eitelberg–Ike Re-elected, 1956

The 1956 presidential race was a re-match from 1952, as Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower successfully defeated Adlai Stevenson for the second time.

Eisenhower utilized simple tactics and produced a campaign that was very straightforward. In some ways it seemed that Eisenhower already knew or assumed he would be victorious. The Republican’s television ads played on the fact that Stevenson didn’t have extensive experience in the army, which was a fact that Americans were already informed about. One commercial delivers a passive remark to the public stating “are you willing to bet everything you love and hold dear on Stevenson, are you sure of it? four years ago you did something about it, you registered and you voted Eisenhower into office… so make the right choice again.”

Eisenhower decided to promote his success with the Korean War and ensure the Americans understood he was the reason we remained out of conflict. The majority of Eisenhower’s public support was caused by the way he maneuvered the two foreign-policy crises that occurred in the Soviet Union and his forceful removal of western forces from Egypt. Overall, Eisenhower’s first four years within the White House were a major success, so his second win was almost inevitable. Even Stevenson agreed with this sentiment, as demonstrated by his 1964 interview with the New Yorker.

Both times I ran it was obviously hopeless. To run as a Democrat in 1952 was hopeless, let alone run against the No.1 War Hero.

BUT there was a catch. The popular and well-liked President Eisenhower was in another battle, a battle of life and death. Adlai Stevenson campaigned vigorously and utilized his opponent’s sickness to promote his own campaign. Stevenson rarely criticized against substantive issues and tended to be vague and ambiguous. So, his criticism of Eisenhower’s sickness came as a bit of a shock… and definitely did nothing to aid his campaign. Stevenson was attempting to dominate the election by convincing the public to believe that Eisenhower wouldn’t live through his next term as president. Then, if Eisenhower died the person who would take over would be his controversial running mate, Vice-President Richard Nixon.

I must say bluntly that every piece of scientific evidence we have, every lesson of history and experience, indicates that a Republican victory tomorrow would mean that Richard M. Nixon would probably be President of this country within the next four years.

However, Stevenson’s decisive ploys failed, which could also be credited to his public disapproval of the recent changes within segregation. In 1954, during Eisenhower’s first-term, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Brown vs. Board of Education against state-mandated segregation in public education. This was a major turning point in history; while the Eisenhower administration supported the 1954 ruling, Stevenson voiced his inherent disapproval. According to Stevenson, Americans “don’t need reforms or grouping experiments” and believed the U.S. was wrong to “upset the habits and traditions that are older than the Republic” (Klarman.) Stevenson didn’t prepare for his comments to create a public controversy, but his demeanor proved an aid to his political demise.

References:

Epstein, J., Gordon, J. S., Soloveichik, M. Y., Rothman, N., Meisel, E. C., Ferguson, A., . . .Teachout, T. (2017, April 27). Adlai Stevenson in Retrospect. Retrieved May 09, 2017, from https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/adlai-stevenson-in-retrospect/

Klarman, Michael J., Brown V. Board Of Education And The Civil Rights Movement. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Mickey, R. (2015). PROLOGUE TO PART THREE: “No Solution Offers Except  Coercion” Brown, Massive resistance, and Campus Crises, 1950–63. In Paths Out of Dixie: The Democratization of Authoritarian Enclaves in America’s Deep  South, 1944-1972: The Democratization of Authoritarian Enclaves in America’s Deep South, 1944-1972 (pp. 173-189). Princeton University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t1q8.10.

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1956–Stevenson TV Ad–Yana Ratushny

In this particular TV commercial, Adlai Stevenson makes a personal address to the people of the United States. During this election, Stevenson’s chances of winning were very low. Incumbent President Dwight Eisenhower was widely popular because of his foreign affairs accomplishments and the booming economy, attributed to his successful presidency. The country prospered for most of Eisenhower’s presidency that the slogan “Eisenhower Prosperity” became popular. Although the 50s were marked by peace and prosperity there were issues looming in the background that Eisenhower could not avoid.

Civil Rights were an important issue during this campaign and it was not an issue that Eisenhower liked to address. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional, Eisenhower did little to speed up the process of integration. In 1957, he sent troops into Little Rock, Arkansas when mobs tried blocking students from entering the school. His action, however, was a result of constitutional obligation and not out of support. Stevenson takes the opportunity to address this issue in the campaign. Campaigns this year were marked by an increase in television advertisements, which helped the candidates reach more people.

This was the first election in which TV ads were the most popular form of campaign rhetoric. Adlai Stevenson even addresses this point in his opening remark stating that “thanks to television, I can talk to millions of people.” Stevenson names a few western states that are rich in resources, which he accuses Eisenhower of “giving away.” He addresses parents telling them that the education system needs to be renewed and claims that small business owners are not prospering in the midst of Eisenhower’s administration. These all point to the underlying theme of creating a government that is more responsive to the majority and not the minority.

He accuses the Eisenhower administration of making money more of a priority over national security, which was then an issue because of the advent of the hydrogen bomb. To Stevenson’s disadvantage, those issues he was trying to shed light on turned out to work in Eisenhower’s favor because of the two world crises that occurred right before Election Day: the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Allied attack on Egypt without American knowledge. Eisenhower handled these two issues in a way that prevented the United States from having to enter into war but proved to the public that their incumbent President was able to take a stand on important international matters.

Stevenson did not like the idea of using television as a means of campaigning, but with the growing number of homes that had TV’s, he had no choice, and therefore decided to hire an agency to handle his campaign. His account was turned down by many of the leading advertising agencies out of fear that they would offend their Republican clients, which they counted on for much of their business. The company Norman, Craig and Kummel ended up taking on Stevenson’s account, however they had little political experience. The type of ads created for Stevenson’s campaign were designed to defend against the negative image he got as an “egghead” and instead tried to portray him as a family man, even though he was divorced. This particular TV ad was composed to restore the idea that the Democratic Party was the “true voice” of the American people.

With the advent of television ads, the main attribute was the five-minute spot (five-minute commercial). These commercials were a result of the cooperation between the networks and candidates. In order to avoid half-hour long speeches before programs, networks agreed to cut time from their shows so that these five-minute ads could be scheduled. This turned out to be advantageous for the candidates because they were less expensive than the thirty minute programs that were used before and because the spots would fit in between popular programs, they reached more viewers than before.

Adlai Stevenson’s attempt at presidency the second time against incumbent Eisenhower proved futile. President Eisenhower was very popular with the American people because of the economic prosperity and ending of the Korean War. Those two factors mixed in with Eisenhower’s popular decisions on how to handle the crises generated massive support. During times of crisis or war, there is the phenomenon known as the rally-around-the-flag effect where the citizens of the country stand behind their President and support their decisions. This phenomenon worked towards Eisenhower’s advantage and led him to a landslide victory.  Stevenson won seven states, a meager 73 electoral votes and 42.1 percent of the popular vote.

1956–Man from Libertyville–Yana Ratushny

This commercial addressed many issues that Stevenson and his campaign team felt would be advantageous to point out. However, as the results of the election showed, Stevenson’s attempt to denounce Eisenhower failed. Issues such as family and the economy were the two main points addressed in this commercial.

Whether or not the President of the United States was a family man was always an important issue to the public. This commercial takes this idea and capitalizes on it by featuring his son and daughter-in-law. Stevenson, however, was divorced, making it more difficult for this portrayal to be believable. Eisenhower, on the other hand, was much more successful in his attempt to emphasize the family aspect. He was married to Mamie (who helped him in his campaign) and bore him two sons, one of which died due to scarlet fever. In addition to involving Stevenson’s family, other strategies were incorporated to make this commercial appeal to a bigger population.

Among these strategies was to make it look as if it was taped in that moment without any rehearsal. Eisenhower did the same in his commercials. The idea behind this pattern is to make each candidate seem as though they are everyday people that can relate to the average middle class family. In many of Eisenhower’s commercials, there are “average” people vouching for Eisenhower, saying he is just like them and makes decisions that benefit the everyday, average Joe.

The economy during Eisenhower’s presidency is brought to the people’s attention in this advertisement. Between the years of 1952 and 1956, there was a mixture of feelings on the economy. Between 1953 and1954 there was a mild recession which slowed growth. Unemployment was typically low during Eisenhower’s first term and inflation usually did not reach above two percent. During his presidency, personal income increased by 45 percent which allowed many families to buy new houses and other items such as televisions, which turned out to be a prominent form of advertisement, especially during the 1956 campaign. Although the majority of Americans enjoyed this prosperity, there were a good percentage of those who did not. Stevenson sheds light on the fact that any tax relief or other economic advantages that marked the prosperity which the Republicans talked about so much, was for the few and well-off. He points out that the elderly struggled with low income and had little tax relief and that the majority of Americans did not receive the same benefits that “the few” did.

Eisenhower came into his presidency in the midst of the Korean War, which he helped end by signing an armistice agreement. The Korean War started with the invasion of South Korea by North Korea in 1950. Officials in Washington speculated that the Soviet Union was behind the North Korean aggression. Given the Truman Doctrine, which stated the resistance of Soviet and communist aggression into other nations, then-President Truman decided that the best response was not just condemnation, but military assistance in South Korea to show the other Allied forces that the United States was committed to preventing Soviet aggression in other spheres of Europe and Asia. For the next three years, the United States military carried on a bloody war with North Korea and China, who had come to the defense of North Korea after the United States crossed their territory. In the 1952 election, candidate Dwight Eisenhower promised to end the war in Korea, which had become largely unpopular back home in the United States. In 1953, he was able to keep his promise. The economy following the war sunk into a recession, which lasted ten months. This recession was caused by poor fiscal policies and more money being funneled into national security during the war.

Among the criticisms that Stevenson made of Eisenhower, was the fact that Eisenhower was a “part-time President.” He gave him this title based on certain pertinent facts. There were many pictures of President Eisenhower golfing and engaging in other recreational activities during a time when he needed to be working on fiscal policies. Critics in the 1950’s described him as a “do-nothing” president. This was based on the premise that he chose a less aggressive path than his predecessor. Critics saw many of his policies as complacent and effortless but they ignored the strong economic growth of the 1950’s and the period of peace that the United States enjoyed. Eisenhower chose not to adopt policies that might have jeopardized the strong economy and instead took steps that stimulated it instead, such as the construction of the Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower was prompted many times to invest more into national security but he resisted such actions because he believed the nation’s military was strong enough.

1956–Ike & Football–Yana Rutushny

When Eisenhower ran for re-election in 1956, there was little doubt that he would win. The economy was stable and people were prospering after Eisenhower ended the war with North Korea, winning him a lot of respect and points with the American people. The 1956 election was the first election to use TV commercials as its main medium for campaigning. Almost fifty percent of the American population had a TV in their home and therefore it was an influential campaigning tool. In the prior election, TV advertisements were used for the first time but the campaigning involved thirty-minute long programs advertising the presidential candidate. These thirty-minute long programs evolved into five-minute commercials in the 1956 election.

This commercial addresses the fact that Adlai Stevenson did not have extensive experience in war, whereas Eisenhower did. Eisenhower served in the army and was then appointed as Supreme Commander of NATO forces in 1951. Stevenson did however, have experience in foreign affairs. Stevenson was special assistant to the secretary of the Navy during World War II. In 1945 he worked with the State Department and helped in the organization of the United Nations, serving as an advisor to its first American delegation.

Despite this list of credentials, Stevenson did not have Eisenhower’s popularity. To combat this obstacle, Stevenson argued that Eisenhower’s policies ignored or poorly addressed issues such as nuclear testing, reducing East-West tension, ending the draft and increasing assistance to underdeveloped countries through United Nations aid. Fortunately for Eisenhower he was able to prove his ability to handle foreign conflicts pragmatically. Right before the election, Eisenhower had to deal with two crises. Israel, Britain, and France led a secret attack on Egypt in retaliation to Egypt’s decision to nationalize the Suez Canal.  Eisenhower condemned this action because he was not consulted and the attack was not very democratic. His condemnation for the allied forces attack resulted in nationwide support for Eisenhower.

The next crisis that Eisenhower had to deal with within a few days of the attack on Egypt was the Soviet invasion of Hungary. This occurred in the midst of the Cold War, which was marked by increased tensions between the United States and Russia. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were continuously developing nuclear arms and considered. The Soviet Union was expanding throughout Europe and Asia and had gained control and influence over many regions in Europe such as Poland and eastern Germany. The West had a strong policy of resistance against Soviet/Communist expansion (the Truman Doctrine) until 1953, when both nations developed the hydrogen bomb. Therefore, in order to prevent nuclear war, the Soviet Empire and the United States began working to improve relations. In October of 1956, the Soviets invaded Hungary and suppressed opposition through military force. Although Eisenhower condemned this action and provided aid to Hungarians that were misplaced from the Soviet attack, he avoided getting involved militarily. Eisenhower’s pragmatic decision won him many votes.

Stevenson’s lack of military experience and the possibility that he would lead the country into war are main claims made by this advertisement. Since the end of the Korean War brought prosperity and happiness to most Americans, they did not want to see the United States embark on another war and Eisenhower capitalized on that point. In this video, there are several civilians giving statements about why they want to keep Eisenhower in office. Two of the speakers are mothers of young veterans of the war and a few of the other speakers are older veterans. The use of women in this video was a clever way to appeal to those families who sons served in the Korean War.

Throughout the advertisement, Stevenson is portrayed as an inexperienced candidate that would sooner lead the country into war than continue the peace and prosperity the U.S. was experiencing.

Towards the end of the commercial, the main speaker in the commercial appeals to the voters directly. He tells voters that they were responsible for taking the U.S. out of Korea because they made the decision to make Eisenhower president. The American public is told that they did it the first time therefore they can continue to make good decisions and re-elect Eisenhower. This commercial gives a lot of credit to the voters for the fate of this country and makes them feel as though they are the ones in control of the government.