The 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 Frémont’s (right) songbook (1856) included “Freedom’s Dawn,” an adaptation of “The Morning Light is Breaking.”
- Abraham Lincoln’s signature campaign song, “Lincoln and Liberty” (1860), was based on the “Old Rosin the Beau” (as noted here, among other places)
- Uylsses S. Grant relied on an adaptation of “Low Back Car” in 1872, but his first jam—“Grant, Grant, Grant” (1868)—used “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching!,” a Civil War song that trickled into the popular vernacular.
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.
Horace 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.”
Democratic incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson used a televised commercial known as “Daisy Girl” against his Republican candidate Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona. Lyndon B. Johnson was the democratic incumbent who took political office after John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. This political advertisement was only aired once on September 7, 1964 due to his controversial content. Most political scientists credit Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory to this specific rhetorical discourse. This LBJ commercial had a significant impact in political advertising and was created by the Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising agency. Many presidential political campaigns, including President Ronald Reagan, used similar themes from this piece of rhetoric in the future.
This television commercial begins with a four year old red head girl picking a daisy is a beautiful meadow. She is counting down slowly while pealing each petal; she does it in an incorrect numerical order in order to solidify her innocence. As she finally counts to 9, the frame freezes and slowly zooms into her face as a serious male voice begins to count down. As the frame continues to zoom into her eye, the commercial blacks out and then an explosion, suddenly the screen quickly fills with a fierily inferno. As the explosion of what seems to be a nuclear weapon continues to spread, the voice of presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson states, “These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” Then another voiceover quotes, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” This commercial was attacking Senator Goldwater’s statement that he may use nuclear warheads in Vietnam. Senator Goldwater was known for his “off the cut” controversial remarks including cutting off the East Coast and letting it float off to sea and other statements showing his idea of utilizing nuclear weapons on the Vietnamese people.
Immediately after this ad was shown on national TV, the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign was criticized for instilling fear on the nation through nuclear war. Although the ad was pulled after that first day, the damage was already done. Certain political advisors for the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign stated that it was a political strategy for them to pull the ad after its first day, arguing, “it showed a certain gallantry on the part of the Johnson campaign to withdraw the commercial.” However, this commercial still spread throughout the United States because ABC News and CBS Nightly News would constantly broadcast it due to controversial content. The Republican National Committee was quick to condemn this piece quoting “This ad implies that Senator Goldwater is a reckless man and Lyndon Johnson is a careful man.” Yet, this was the exact goal of this marketing campaign, and it seems like this point was made successfully. Lyndon B. Johnson confirms this intent by stating “The idea was not to let him get away with building a moderate image and to put him on the defensive before the campaign is old.” The former president felt like it was his obligation to educate the American people on Senator Goldwater’s extremist values and principles.
The specific campaign advertisement will forever me remembered for its manipulation of the American people by placing the innocence of children next to the atrocious causalities of war. This commercial is a manifestation of the inherit fears that surrounded the American public. This rhetoric aired just two years after the Cuban missile crisis and around three years from the Berlin crisis. So in essence, this commercial was a current reality for its audience. The idea of a president who would use such destructive weapons help motivate the population to come out and vote, “the stakes are to high not to vote.” Fundamentally, a political campaign is structured and designed to sell their product, and their product happens to be the President of The United States.
Ice Cream Girl
In the 1960s the United States along with most powerful empires were expanding their tests on nuclear weapons. Most republicans thought it was essential for the safely of the American people to continue the research on the weapon capabilities. Nevertheless, most Democrats’ believed that testing their destructive devices would lead to catastrophic consequences. In Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign, he relied on persuasive rhetoric that portrayed his opponent Senator Goldwater as an advocate for nuclear war.
In this particular piece of rhetoric which was aired on the audience observes a young four-year-old girl enjoying her ice cream. She seems very calm and ignorant to the world around her. Her over-alls and her casual, nonchalant gaze is a manifestation of her innocence. In the background a women’s voice states “do you know what people used to do? They used to explode atomic bombs in the air. Now children should have lots of vitamin A and Calcium. But they shouldn’t have any striatum 90 or Cesium 137. These things come from atomic bombs. And their radioactive, they can make you die. Do you know what people finally did? They got together and signed a nuclear test ban treaty and the radioactive poison started to go away. But now there is a man who wants to be the president of the United States and he doesn’t like this treaty. He fought against. He even voted against it. He wants to go on testing more bombs. His name is Barry Goldwater. And if he is elected, they may start testing all over again.” After that a male voice quotes, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” The woman’s voice is speaking almost in a story-telling tone, as if she was speaking to that little girl. She speaks of the terrible side effects of atom bomb testing and how it will kill little kids just like this girl. The voice then continues to explain how the leaders of the world signed a treaty that would allow these terrible weapons to stop being tested, but Senator Goldwater was against this. She implies that Senator Barry Goldwater will continue testing such weapons and little girls will bear the awful consequences.
The Lyndon B. Johnson campaign carried popularity from the Kennedy administration, but feared of a low voter turnout. In order to address this issue their marketing strategy was to scare the American people into the high stakes of not voting. This is why in all of Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign series there is a statement saying “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” They believed that pushing the idea of nuclear war would help motivate the country out of quiescence. The populations’ arousal after these T.V spots successfully concludes these assumptions.
These ads were in response to one of Senator Goldwater’s statements regarding his “loose” use of nuclear bombs. Goldwater quotes in his most famous blunder that the United States should just “lob one (a nuclear bomb) into the men’s room of the Kremlin” in the Soviet Union These “off-the-cuff” gaffes seemed to have cost Senator Goldwater a majority of his support. Even the more moderate Republicans didn’t openly support or endorse him as a candidate. In fact, some moderate Republicans formed a “Republicans for Johnson” group in order to halt his campaign for the White House.
The Lyndon Johnson campaign went as far as changing one of Senator Goldwater’s campaign slogans from “in your heart, you know he’s right” to “in your heart, you know he might (push the nuclear button). The LBJ campaign wanted to show the country that putting such nuclear power into the hands of someone who so abruptly speaks of nuclear war is a very dangerous. With T.V. ads such as the Daisy Girl and the Ice Cream girl, President Johnson was successful at spreading these fears
President Johnson’s image after he took office in 1963 was greatly strengthened for his powerful legislation on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act guaranteed certain rights for all African Americans including access to public facilities while banning discrimination based on age, sex, or religion. The Vietnam War was also starting to intensify, while new debates were sparked over nuclear weapon testing. All of these political issues were addressed in the 1964 presidential campaign.
The huge landslide victory for President Johnson is attributed partly to Senator Goldwater’s extremist views and his habit of blurting out certain controversial remarks. After a spiteful campaign, the Senator from Arizona won the Republic nomination over the moderate New Yorker Governor Nelson Rockefeller. One of Goldwater’s most famous quotes was stated at during his Republican Nomination Speech, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” This claim was in defense of his far right political values such as nuclear weapons in Vietnam and making social security into a voluntary service.
However, one of Goldwater’s most famous slips was “sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.” The Lyndon B. Johnson campaign successfully attacked this statement with a television ad that showed a map of the United States floating on top of water, while a saw slowly cuts through the Eastern Seaboard eventually cutting it off and letting it float off the screen. In the background a male voice states “In a Saturday post article dated August 31, 1963, Barry Goldwater said ‘sometimes I think this country will be better off if we just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.’ The male voice continues to assert, “Can a man who makes statements like these be expected to serve all the people justly and fairly?” Just then, the eastern seaboard of the U.S model breaks off and falls into the water. The male voice then says “Vote for President Johnson, on November 3, the stakes are to high for you to stay home.” This rhetorical piece is highlighting Goldwater’s uncertainly to lead the whole country. Goldwater does not like the eastern shore mainly because these regions historically tend to lean more left. His dislike for the liberal economic and social polices in that part of the nation may have cost him the election.
By the end of the campaign, Johnson’s commercials seemed to help him rise to the top and defeat Goldwater with 61 percent of the popular vote, which is known as the highest percentage since 1824. Goldwater only won his home state of Arizona and the Deep South who felt against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This particular election is also notable because it was the first one where the citizens of the District of Colombia had the right to vote under the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution. President Johnson also won the votes in D.C.