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Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds

LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics

Robert Mann

Publication Year: 2011

The grainy black-and-white television ad shows a young girl in a flower-filled meadow, holding a daisy and plucking its petals, which she counts one by one. As the camera slowly zooms in on her eye, a man’s solemn countdown replaces hers. At zero the little girl’s eye is engulfed by an atomic mushroom cloud. As the inferno roils in the background, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s voice intones, “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.” In this thought-provoking and highly readable book, Robert Mann provides a concise, engaging study of the “Daisy Girl” ad, widely acknowledged as the most important and memorable political ad in American history. Commissioned by Johnson’s campaign and aired only once during Johnson’s 1964 presidential contest against Barry Goldwater, it remains an iconic piece of electoral propaganda, intertwining cold war fears of nuclear annihilation with the increasingly savvy world of media and advertising. Mann presents a nuanced view of how Johnson’s campaign successfully cast Barry Goldwater as a radical too dangerous to control the nation’s nuclear arsenal, a depiction that sparked immediate controversy across the United States. Repeatedly analyzed in countless books and articles, the spot purportedly destroyed Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Although that degree of impact on the Goldwater campaign is debatable, what is certain is that the ad ushered in a new era of political advertising using emotional appeals as a routine aspect of campaign strategy.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. ix

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pp. xi

After November 22, 1963, the outcome of the next U.S. presidential election was, most historians agree, a foregone conclusion. Americans still mourning the violent loss of their charismatic young leader, John F. Kennedy, were not about to depose the man who had succeeded him. ...

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pp. xv-xvii

Many colleagues, friends, and acquaintances helped me immensely with the research and writing of this book. I am grateful to Alisa Plant of LSU Press, who is not only a superb editor but also a good friend. Alisa expressed her enthusiasm for this project from the moment I mentioned it. ...

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1. The Atom Theme

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pp. 1-16

It was more than two months before the presidential election of 1964 and less than ten days before Labor Day, the traditional start of the fall campaign season. In the Oval Office on the late morning of August 29, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke by phone with his press secretary, George Reedy. ...

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2. Why Not Victory?

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pp. 17-33

In late 1959, Barry Goldwater skimmed the manuscript for a 127-page book, The Conscience of a Conservative, that had been written for him by L. Brent Bozell, an editor for the conservative National Review. He approved the book—proposed primarily to raise funds for a possible run at the 1960 Republican presidential nomination—with few edits. ...

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3. Rules Are Made to Be Broken

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pp. 34-46

“Think Small.” The slogan for the new U.S. campaign in 1960 for the German automaker Volkswagen communicated anything but a modest approach to advertising. Its creator, the emerging New York–based agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), was sparking a evolution in the advertising business with its fresh approach to selling its clients’ products. ...


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pp. PS1-P16

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4. These Are the Stakes

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pp. 47-61

Lyndon Johnson was worried about his reelection—that is, worried about the prospect that he might not earn a historic landslide victory. A Gallup poll released on July 10, 1964, that showed him with the support of 77 percent of voters, to Barry Goldwater’s 18 percent, did little to assuage his anxiety.1 ...

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5. The Homes of America Are Horrified

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pp. 62-82

Johnson and his advisors instinctively knew that the Daisy Girl spot would create a sensation and that much of the reaction to it would be adverse. More cautious than Johnson’s younger, more-aggressive aides, advisors like Clark Clifford and some DNC officials worried about the Daisy Girl spot and other hard-hitting, edgy DDB spots. ...

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6. In Your Heart, You Know He Might

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pp. 83-102

Goldwater believed that Johnson and the DDB ads had severely damaged his candidacy. “There was no doubt as to the meaning [of the Daisy Girl spot],” he would write in 1988. “Barry Goldwater would blow up the world if he became President of the United States.”1 ...

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pp. 103-116

Running against John F. Kennedy for the Democratic presidential nomination in West Virginia in 1960, Senator Hubert Humphrey came to the end of his campaign funds. The Minnesota Democrat struggled to maintain some kind of presence on television lest he be swept aside in the wake of his opponent’s enormous advertising budget. ...

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Appendix: Behind the Scenes in Documents

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pp. 117-156

When not speaking in person or by phone, Lyndon Johnson’s advisors communicated by inner-office memoranda. From late 1963 through the November 1964 election, these men engaged in a robust exchange of ideas and proposals, and voiced concerns about various aspects of their advertising strategy. ...


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pp. 157-172


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pp. 173-179

E-ISBN-13: 9780807142950
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807142936

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011