1984 Reagan VS. Mondale

"Arms Control 5"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Arms Control 5," Mondale, 1984

(Background music by Crosby, Stills, Nash: "Teach Your Children")

JOHN F. KENNEDY: Man may no longer pretend that the quest for disarmament is a sign of weakness. For in a spiraling arms race, a nation's security may be shrinking even as its arms increase.

MALE NARRATOR: John F. Kennedy knew that it took strength and vision to control nuclear weapons. He turned this important idea into action in 1963 by signing the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets. Four later, presidents signed fifteen arms agreements with the Russians but Ronald Reagan opposed them, proposing always to build more. With 7,000 new nuclear weapons in four years, Reagan now plans to take the arms race into space, an irretrievable step--preparing for Star Wars--not knowing where it will lead.

REAGAN: When you keep, keep Star Warring it, I never suggested where the weapons should be or what kind. I'm not a scientist.

MONDALE: Well that's what a president is supposed to know: where those weapons are going to be. If they're space weapons, I assume they'll be in space.

MALE NARRATOR: That's exactly where they'll be. Killer weapons in space, layer upon layer, orbiting, with a response time so short, there will be no time to wake a president. Kennedy's hotline will be obsolete. Computers will take control.

The cost, a trillion dollars. And Reagan plans to turn over the technology to the Russians. Mondale won't.

MONDALE: I don't believe this administration understands how most Americans feel about arms control. We know that if those bombs go off, that's probably the end, it's over. We're the first generation to have the capacity to destroy all life. And that's why this is not just another problem--it's THE problem. I've been involved in every arms control fight over twenty years. I know what I'm doing. I've dealt with the Soviets. I've worked with our friends. I know how to get arms control. We must have that kind of leadership in the White House.

MALE NARRATOR: And that's the kind of leadership you'll get with Mondale, an army man, senator on the National Security Council, vice president. He knows the world for the tough place it is. That we need a growing strong defense, state of the art conventional weapons on land and sea. He also knows, like Jack Kennedy, that we must deal with the Russians from strength. A steady hand, a savvy negotiator, he's ready to take on the negotiations that will stop weapons in space.

MONDALE: I want your generation, and all generations in American history, to get the very best. I want you to learn, I want you to challenge yourself, I want you to stretch that mind, I want you to think of new things, and dream of new dreams, I want your life to be thrilling, and I want to help you.

(Background music by Crosby, Stills, and Nash resumes)

MONDALE: The future stands before us. We must choose which kind it will be. A future filled with killer weapons orbiting above us, or the promise of a better future. It's not too late if we act now. I say it's time for new leadership. It's time for America to move on.

MALE NARRATOR: Draw the line at the heavens on election day. No weapons in space by either side. Wherever you live in America, if you want to help the Mondale campaign, call this number right now, 1-800-258-6700. Thank you.


"Arms Control 5," Mondale/Ferraro Committee, Inc., 1984

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1984/arms-control-5 (accessed July 18, 2024).


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1984 Reagan Mondale Results

In 1984, the economy was in an upswing. Oil prices were low, interest rates were high, and the lurking problem of the mounting federal deficit caused little public concern. The popular President Reagan was earning the label "the Teflon president" for his ability to escape unscathed from setbacks. In October 1983, 241 marines were killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut. The debacle was eclipsed days later by a marine invasion of Grenada, purportedly to save a small group of medical students from the island’s new leftist government. Public confidence in the military was restored.

The unenviable task of running against Reagan fell to former Vice President Walter Mondale. Mondale made two bold choices in his campaign, both of which backfired. First, he selected a woman, New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro, as his running mate. Media scrutiny of her husband’s finances put Ferraro on the defensive. Second, Mondale announced in his acceptance speech that he would raise taxes to fight the deficit. He missed the opportunity to point out that a day earlier Reagan had quietly signed a bill raising taxes by $50 billion. Reagan succeeded in tagging Mondale as a typical free-spending Democrat, and won the most lopsided electoral victory since 1936.

Ronald Reagan for president
George Bush for vice president

"America Is Back"

With lush images of Americans buying houses, raising flags, washing cars, going to work, and playing in their yards, all set to swelling music in a montage style familiar from soft-drink and beer commercials, Ronald Reagan ads presented an upbeat image of "Morning in America." Reagan consultant Philip Dusenbery has said that the ads were designed to evoke emotion rather than thought or understanding: "That’s the most powerful part of advertising. It stays with people longer and better." The Reagan campaign produced several ads to defuse Mondale’s main attacks. The most memorable spot,"Bear," responded to charges that Reagan had unnecessarily escalated military spending. In the ad a bear, representing the Soviet threat, prowls the woods as the narrator asks, "Isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear—if there is a bear?" Another ad rebutted Mondale’s charges that "Reaganomics" was unfair to the middle class by defining "Mondalenomics" as higher taxes. In addition, Reagan’s ads consistently tied Mondale to the Carter administration, asking, "Now that our country is turning around, why would we ever turn back?"

Walter Mondale for president
Geraldine Ferraro for vice president

"Fighting for Your Future"

Most of Walter Mondale’s ads featured ominous music reminiscent of the soundtrack of the popular horror movie Halloween. To evoke the dark side of "Morning in America," these conceptual ads used eerie scenes such as a father digging a hole for a bomb shelter in his backyard to protect his family in case of nuclear war. Mondale’s ads attacked Reagan on three issues: arms control, the deficit, and the widening gulf between the rich and the middle class. The ads asked the public to look beyond the apparent prosperity of the nation and see trouble on the horizon, but their claims did not ring true for the majority of Americans. A Mondale ad citing Reagan’s foreign-policy failures, with images of the caskets of marines killed in Beirut, was ineffective because Reagan was not considered responsible for that tragedy. Ads that were meant to show Reagan as unfair to the middle class were negated by the irresistible imagery of the upbeat Republican spots. Attacking Reagan simply proved fruitless, and Mondale’s commercials never presented a strong vision of an alternative to the Reagan presidency.

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