Playlist John Dickerson

Oval Office


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Oval Office," Dukakis, 1988


MALE NARRATOR: The most powerful man in the world is also mortal. We know this all too well in America. One in five American vice presidents has had to rise to the duties of Commander-in-Chief. One in five has had to take on the responsibilities of the most powerful office in the world. For this job, after five months of reflection, George Bush made his personal choice: J. Danforth Quayle.

MALE NARRATOR [and TEXT]: Hopefully, we will never know how great a lapse of judgment that really was.


"Oval Office," Dukakis-Bentsen Comm, Inc., 1988

Maker: Scott Miller

Original air date: 09/22/88

Video courtesy of Northeastern University Libraries, Michael Dukakis Presidential Campaign Records.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012. (accessed June 22, 2024).


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Little has changed in politics over the past 60 years. Eisenhower’s pitch to white women (“Women Voters”) is striking for its time-capsule feel (Mom in charge of everything; Dad in charge of aloof paper-reading), but also reminds us that white women have been the swing constituency for a very long time. Candidates are still trying to show they connect with regular people—John Kennedy sits on the couch in the Sills’ home, Ford has a heart-to-heart with the kids, and we see George H.W. Bush playing with his family to show his softer side.

This effort to show empathy with regular people has made us all soft, I fear. Michael Dukakis’s ad raising questions about Dan Quayle is not subtle (what ad with a beating heart is?) but it’s a fair ad. George Bush would be called a fearmonger for the “Crisis B” ad he ran in 1992, but instead of umbrage, opponents should respond as Goldwater did in 1964 to the famous “Daisy” ad. He fought back hard, which clarified the debate (unfortunately for Goldwater, it was not to his advantage, as the jittery, stressed-out Republican tells us in the Johnson ad “Confessions of a Republican”). Our presidential ads today are less tough and less fair. If candidates were tougher, they’d have to make ads that didn’t include made-up facts, and it would force us all to think a little more sharply about what’s at stake in this election.

About John Dickerson John Dickerson is Slate magazine's Chief Political Correspondent and a political analyst for CNN and NPR. Dickerson covered politics for 12 years for Time magazine, and has written for the New York Times and Washington Post. He is also the author of On Her Trail.
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Oval Office Children/Achievements Women Voters Confessions of a Republican Sills Family We Will Bury You Family/Children Crisis B Really MD Busing/Law and Order
If you thought George Bush bullied Michael Dukakis in 1988, this commercial shows that the Massachusetts governor could throw hard punches too. Barack Obama would love to run this kind of ad about Sarah Palin, especially given that McCain is 72 years old, but he dares not for fear of causing an uproar from older voters and tarnishing his “new politics” image.
Our first president-as-Dr.-Phil shot. If you had the sound down on the television, you might think this was some kind of public service ad promoting better hygiene: “Talk to your children about the choices facing them in today’s modern society.” Ford is trying to show that, unlike Nixon, he’s a soft, approachable guy and he should get credit for healing the nation. Stay with this one to the end for the shot of the kid with the groovy collar and the fantastic 1970s tune.
What do women want? Politicians have been obsessed with that question. In this four-minute spot for Eisenhower it turns out they mostly want a candidate with good personal qualities—a “God-fearing man” with a good “smile,” “honesty,” and “high caliber.” If you believe this throwback ad, that’s because women “are the custodians of values and aspirations for the future.” Men, meanwhile, judging from their representatives in this ad, are only interested in the box scores.
This is not a <i>Saturday Night Live</i> skit. It could, however, be a wilderness documentary. The man you see here is a member of an endangered species: the northeastern Republican. He’s really unhappy with his party’s choice and sounds like some disaffected Clinton voters do. As the commercial continues he becomes ever more unglued, taking out a cigarette to calm his nerves. It’s not just Goldwater that’s making him so jittery, it’s the “people with strange ideas [who] are working for Goldwater.”
“Yes we can” is not a new phrase, it turns out. But you probably knew that already. Trying to show that you connect with regular people and their struggles at home is obviously not a new phenomenon either. As good as John Kennedy was in other circumstances, he doesn’t exactly exude fellow feeling here.
We all know about the famous “Daisy” ad. This was Goldwater’s response. Not as effective, but intellectually honest.
The only way they could have made George H.W. Bush any softer in this ad meant to appeal to women was if they’d shown him changing an actual diaper.
This is a version of the kind of ad that John McCain will surely run before the 2008 election is over. It’s frightening and, while not effective against Bill Clinton, could be slightly more effective in the post-9/11 world.
Some people found Sarah Palin’s sarcasm a little too sharp. The narrator of this ad from the 2000 race matches it exactly. Whether it’s a soccer mom or a hockey mom, the derision is the same.
George Wallace frightened voters in a variety of ways with this incendiary ad. But when the gun goes off, it’s less frightening than eerie—in 1972, Wallace would be shot five times at a campaign rally.