1964 Johnson VS. Goldwater



Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate - Transcript
"Punchcard," Goldwater, 1964

MALE NARRATOR: This--this punchcard--could be a portrait of you and your family. A portrait owned and manipulated by an all-powerful Big Brother government. And you work four full months a year to pay Big Brother here in Washington to plan and regulate your life, your business, the teaching of your children, your protection, and even comfort you on the way to your final reward. For all of this, Big Brother sends you one very big annual bill: your taxes. For that price, he says he will put you on the best possible terms with your neighbors, and with other people in other parts of the world. Oh, Big Brother will be your high-living representative with world leaders who don't like your system of government. There must be people who want to become a number looked after by Big Brother government. They want the present administration to continue--and grow. But there are other people to whom it is a frightening picture. And it is this man who speaks for them. His name is Barry Goldwater.

GOLDWATER: The individual, the private man, today stands in danger of becoming the forgotten man of our collectivized, complex times. The private man, the whole man, must and can be restored as a sovereign citizen, as the center of the family and the state, and a prime mover and shaper of the future. In this year of decision, and with your help, we must begin a great campaign to return the government of this nation to the people of this nation. We must take a first step to ending in our time the erosion of individual worth and responsibility, the growing federal bureaucracy. This time, in this election, we have a choice. It's between far more than political personalities, or political promises, or political programs. It is a choice of which sort of people we want to be. It's a choice of what sort of world we want to live in and pass on to our children. Choose the way of the present administration, and you will have chosen the way of regimented society, with a number for every man, woman, and child; a pigeonhole for every problem; a bureaucrat for every decision. Choose the way of this administration, and you choose the way of unilateral disarmament and appeasement in foreign affairs. Choose the way of this present administration, and you make real the prospect of an America unarmed and aimless in the face of militant communism around the world.

Instead, I ask if you'll join me in protesting that every man, every American, can stand on his own, make up his own mind, chart his own future, teach and control his own family. Asking for help and getting help only when truly overwhelming problems beyond his control beset him. I ask you to join with me in finding twentieth century answers for twentieth century problems, rather than relying on the old, worn-out doctrine of turning our problems, our lives, and eventually our liberties, over to an all-powerful central government. The campaign we wage today is dedicated to this search for new answers. The campaign we wage today is dedicated to peace, to progress, and to purpose. Peace through preparedness. Progress through freedom. Purpose through constitutional order. These are the themes we will make resound across this great land of ours. These are the themes that will be heard around the world as we restore peace and freedom.

MALE NARRATOR [and TEXT]: In your heart... You know he's right. VOTE FOR BARRY GOLDWATER.


"Punchcard," TV for Goldwater-Miller Committee, 1964

Video courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1964/punchcard (accessed April 20, 2024).


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1964 Johnson Goldwater Results

President Lyndon B. Johnson, who took office following John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, enhanced his image as a tough legislator by winning a hard-fought battle to pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which guaranteed African-Americans access to all public facilities, and banned discrimination by race, religion, or sex. The Vietnam War was escalating, but had yet to become a real liability for Johnson.

The margin of Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964 was partly a repudiation of Barry Goldwater’s extreme right-wing views. Goldwater, an Arizona senator and author of the best-selling book The Conscience of a Conservative, won the Republican nomination after a bitter primary campaign against moderate New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. In his acceptance speech, Goldwater made the infamous statement, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." The assertion, meant as a defense of conservatism, merged in the public consciousness with statements in which Goldwater advocated the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam and argued that Social Security be made voluntary.

Lyndon Johnson for president
Hubert Humphrey for vice president

"Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The Stakes Are Too High for You to Stay at Home"

The most celebrated and perhaps most notorious of all political commercials was aired as a paid spot just once, during the NBC Movie of the Week on September 7, 1964. In Johnson’s "Peace Little Girl (Daisy)" ad, a young girl counts to ten as she picks the petals off a daisy. When she reaches nine, an ominous adult voice begins counting down to zero as a close-up of the little girl dissolves to a nuclear explosion. Tony Schwartz, the ad’s creator, called it "the first Rorschach test on the American public." Without mentioning Goldwater or citing any statements by him, the ad exploited the established public fear that he would start a nuclear war if elected president.

The Goldwater campaign vigorously protested the ad. Republican National Committee chairman Dean Burch said, "This horror-type commercial is designed to arouse basic emotions and has no place in the campaign." The Democrats withdrew it, but the controversy led to its being replayed in its entirety on network news and commentary programs, and the "daisy girl" made the cover of Time.

With its suggestive style and provocative sounds and visuals, the daisy ad exemplified Johnson’s innovative commercials, which were produced by the vanguard New York agency Doyle Dane Bernbach and were almost exclusively attack ads.

President Kennedy had been impressed by the strikingly modern approach of the agency’s Volkswagen "Think Small" and Avis "We Try Harder" campaigns, and the agency was contracted by the Democrats in the summer of 1963. Madison Avenue had been avoiding the Democrats since the days of Stevenson, but the agency accepted the account promptly, later explaining to Johnson’s advisers, "We are deadly afraid of Goldwater and feel that the world must be handed a Johnson landslide."

Barry Goldwater for president
William Miller for vice president

"In Your Heart You Know He’s Right"

Compared to the Johnson ads, Goldwater’s were old-fashioned, with extensive use of talking-head endorsements and a series of commercials emulating "Eisenhower Answers America." The ads reflected the fundamental problem of Goldwater’s campaign, namely that he was almost always on the defensive, constantly explaining his statements or responding to charges against him. The ads probably exacerbated Goldwater’s problems by keeping the original charges (of war-mongering, of intending to dismantle Social Security) in the public consciousness.

As the defensive commercials proved ineffective, a second wave of ads attempted to launch a counterattack. But a Goldwater ad juxtaposing images of Khrushchev shouting, "We Will Bury You!" with American children reciting the pledge of allegiance was undercut by Khrushchev’s ouster in October. Attempts to link Johnson to charges of influence-peddling by his associates Bobby Baker and Billie Sol Estes were also ineffective, because the charges seemed trivial compared to those leveled against Goldwater, and because no one had been able to link Johnson to any specific illegal activities. Even Goldwater’s slogan, "In Your Heart You Know He’s Right," backfired, spawning bumper stickers and buttons that twisted it to "In Your Heart You Know He Might," "In Your Head You Know He’s Wrong," and "In Your Guts You Know He’s Nuts."

The campaign relied less on spot commercials than on half-hour broadcasts, which were used as fundraising appeals. One of Goldwater’s most effective half-hour programs was an endorsement speech by Ronald Reagan that put the Hollywood actor in the national spotlight as a political figure, leading to his successful run for governor of California in 1966.

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