Skip to main content

Exploring the History of Presidential Ads

David Schwartz, chief curator of film at the American Museum of the Moving Image, talks about the history of political commercials, from their inception in 1952 to the present.

Schwartz is the organizer of the exhibit "The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004." (This interview was first broadcast on July 29, 2004.)

33:11

Other segments from the episode on February 19, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 19, 2007: Interview with David Schwartz; Interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Transcript

DATE February 19, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: David Schwartz discusses "The Living Room Candidate,"
at American Museum of the Moving Image exhibit
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

On this President's Day, I have a question for you. Who was the first
president to run campaign ads on TV? The answer is Eisenhower. What did they
sound like? Well, you're about to hear a couple, along with several other
influential presidential campaign ads from the past few decades. The American
Museum of the Moving Image in New York has an Internet exhibition called The
Living Room Candidate, which is a history of presidential campaign ads. It
features over 250 ads from every election year, beginning in 1952 when the
first TV campaign ads were broadcast. The exhibition is on the Internet at
the Web site livingroomcandidate.movingimage.us. It will be updated to
include ads from the 2008 campaign. My guest, David Schwartz, is the museum's
curator of film, and he's the co-curator of The Living Room Candidate. I
spoke with him in 2004 when the exhibition was launched and asked him to
describe the first presidential campaign ad broadcast on TV.

Mr. DAVID SCHWARTZ (Curator, American Museum of the Moving Image): The first
televised ads for a presidential campaign were used by Eisenhower in 1952, and
it was a really innovative idea at the time. In 1948, there were television
sets in only a few hundred thousand households around the country. By 1952,
there were about 20 million TV sets, and "I Love Lucy" was a big hit on TV, so
it made television very popular. And the Eisenhower campaign had a strategy
which was to buy short spots of time between popular TV shows. And they would
do commercials that were only 20 seconds long. These were the original
soundbites. They did a series of commercials with Eisenhower on camera,
answering questions from ordinary people.

Now the Stevenson campaign felt that television was undignified, and
Stevenson, Adlai Stevenson, did not appear in his own television commercials
that year, because he felt it was beneath the dignity of a presidential
candidate to be on TV in a spot ad.

GROSS: Well, let's hear one of the first presidential campaign ads, and this
was for Eisenhower in 1952. The ad is basically a jingle with a cartoon
behind it. Would you describe what's happening in this cartoon?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: This cartoon was actually made by the Walt Disney Studio, and
you're seeing a parade of people marching towards Washington. And it's
animated. It's an old-fashioned cartoon.

GROSS: And they're all carrying signs that say, `Eisenhower for
president,'...

Mr. SCHWARTZ: `We...

GROSS: ...and `I like Ike,'...

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Right.

GROSS: ...and things like that.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: And `We like Ike.'

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: That's right.

GROSS: OK. So let's hear this 1952 campaign ad for Eisenhower.

(Soundbite of 1952 Eisenhower campaign ad)

Unidentified Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Ike for president. Ike for
president. Ike for president. Ike for president. You like Ike. I like Ike.
Everybody likes Ike for president. Hang out the banner and beat the drum.
We'll take Ike to Washington. We don't want John or Dean or Harry. Let's do
this big job right. Let's get in step with the guy that's hep. Get in step
with Ike. You like Ike. I like Ike. Everybody likes Ike for president.
Hang out the banner, beat the drum. We'll take Ike to Washington. We've got
to get where we are going, travel day and night for the president. Let Adlai
go the other way. We'll all go with Ike for president. You like Ike. I like
Ike. Everybody likes Ike for president. Hang out the banner and beat the
drum. We'll take Ike to Washington. We'll take Ike to Washington.

Unidentified Narrator #1: Now is the time for all good Americans to come to
the aid of their country. Vote for Eisenhower.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Wow. It's really the jingle era, isn't it?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: That is catchy, yeah.

GROSS: Truth in advertising, was Ike really a guy that's hep? What a great
line.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, Ike was a guy that was very well liked, and it was
really his personality and his likability that fueled his campaign. In 1952,
both parties, both the Democratic and Republican parties wanted Ike to run on
their ticket, and chose the Republican Party. But what this commercial really
is selling largely is a combination of Ike's personality, and there was a lot
of disillusionment with Washington. Harry Truman had decided not to run for
re-election this year. The country was stuck in the Korean War. There were
corruption scandals in Washington. So there was a real anti-Washington
feeling that year, and Ike was able to, you know, cash in on that.

GROSS: Whose idea was it to do a campaign ad in the Eisenhower campaign crew?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: It was Madison Avenue's idea. There was an advertising man
named Rosser Reeves who, his earlier claim to fame was the M&M `Melts in your
mouth, not in your hands' campaign. And it was really his strategy to produce
these 20-second ads. He thought that would be very effective. He thought
they could reach a lot of people. The Stevenson campaign made a very
interesting choice, and it was a big mistake that year, with their TV
strategy. They purchased half-hour time slots, a series of 18 time slots
between 10:30 and 11:00 at night, where Stevenson would go on the air and do
speeches, half-hour speeches. Now it sounded like a good idea at the time,
and he was a very good speaker, had great oratorical skills. The problem was
that the only people who were really tuning in to watch these half-hour
speeches were people who already were going to vote for Stevenson. The
strategy with the Eisenhower spot ads was they could go onto popular TV shows
like "I Love Lucy" and catch a captive audience that was already there.

GROSS: Let's listen to another Eisenhower ad, also from 1952, in which a
woman expresses her concern about high prices. Before we actually hear this
ad, set it up for us. What's happening visually?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Each of these ads--this is the "Eisenhower Answers America"
spot--consists of two shots. The first shot in the ad--and I think of these
commercials as short movies, and this is a very short movie--you see an
ordinary person; you know, in this case, a woman is concerned about the high
cost of living, high prices, and they ask a question of Eisenhower. And the
person who's asking the question is filmed from above. The camera's sort of
looking down at them. And then we cut to Eisenhower, and in those shots, the
camera's looking up at Eisenhower, so he looks kind of heroic. And he answers
the question of the ordinary person, so he's connecting with the voter.

GROSS: OK, so here we are, an ad for the Eisenhower campaign in 1952.

(Soundbite of 1952 Eisenhower campaign ad)

Unidentified Narrator #2: Eisenhower answers America.

Unidentified Woman: You know what things cost today. High prices are just
driving me crazy.

General DWIGHT DAVID EISENHOWER: Yes. My Mamie gets after me about the high
cost of living. It's another reason why I say it's time for a change, time to
get back to an honest dollar and an honest dollar's worth.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: A couple of things I find really interesting about that 1952
Eisenhower ad. One is that they both absolutely sound like they're reading
the script for the first time. They're not very good at acting the part of
being themselves.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: No, they filmed about 40 of these commercials in one day.
They basically took Eisenhower into a studio in Midtown Manhattan and set him
up in front of a bunch of gigantic cue cards where they had the scripts. And
Eisenhower was a little bit uncomfortable doing this. At one point, probably
about halfway through the session, he said, `It's kind of a shame that an old
soldier should have to come to this.' And he was just reading these answers
off of big cue cards. And he was a little bit stiff perhaps, but probably not
as stiff as Stevenson came across in his TV appearances. But the commercials
look kind of crude. Eisenhower's answers were filmed separately from these
ordinary people who were rounded up in front of Radio City Music Hall and
brought in. After Eisenhower's answers were filmed, ordinary people were
brought in to ask their questions.

GROSS: The other thing about this ad is that it sounds so condescending to
women now. It's like, you know, the woman complains about high prices, and
Eisenhower basically says, `I've never made a purchase in my life, but there's
a woman in my home, she's my wife, she's shopped, and she's told me that
prices are high.' You know, that's how it kind of comes off.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, it was 1952.

GROSS: I know. I know. I know.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: And those were the rules for the time.

GROSS: Everything in retrospect.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: And Eisenhower did try to reach women voters, actually, in
both '52 and '56. There was a growing suburban population and sort of an
increasing importance of the housewife, you know, at the time as a voting
block. So this was Eisenhower's pitch to the woman voter. But also, the
Eisenhower campaign identified three key issues to focus on. One was high
prices. Another one was the war in Korea. And then it was corruption in
Washington. And these ads keep hitting on these three key issues.

GROSS: So was this, you know, quote, "ordinary people ad" effective?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: It's hard to say if this ad was determinative in the election.
Eisenhower would have won this election almost under any circumstances. It
was a landslide election. But I think it was effective, because the
Eisenhower campaign spent about a million dollars putting their ads on TV, or
actually close to $2 million. The Stevenson campaign only spent about $77,000
in TV ads that year. In 1956, when it was a rematch of Eisenhower vs.
Stevenson, Stevenson decided to do his own series of ads called "The Man From
Libertyville," and he appeared on television. So after 1952, it was evident
that candidates would have to do these commercials and style themselves as TV
stars, even though they were reluctant. Even though Stevenson and Eisenhower
both were kind of reluctant to become TV actors, they realized they had to do
it.

GROSS: Now Kennedy was--John F. Kennedy was very telegenic. What were his
TV ads like?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: John Kennedy's TV ads really reflected the spontaneity and
freshness of his campaign. He was great on television. Of course, it's very
well known that the debates--that he looked much better than Richard Nixon in
the debates. He was a lot fresher and more spontaneous. And the spontaneity
of the campaign was captured by documentary film cameras. At the time, in
1960, filmmakers were starting to use lightweight portable cameras. And
often, Kennedy's campaign appearances were filmed. Cameras would follow him
into--you know, follow him around making speeches, follow him into people's
living rooms. There's one ad that we have on our site which is Kennedy in an
ordinary living room, talking to average voters. Really the personality and
freshness of the Kennedy campaign came across in his TV ads.

(Soundbite of Kennedy campaign ad)

Unidentified Narrator #3: This is the Sills family. Recently, John F.
Kennedy visited the Sills.

Senator JOHN F. KENNEDY: Mr. and Mrs. Sills are facing one of the great
problems that all American families are now facing, and that is the great
increase in the cost of living.

Mrs. SILL: Our rent has gone up. Our food, our cleaning of our clothing,
buying of the clothing, our gas and electric and our telephone bills have gone
up.

Sen. KENNEDY: What's been your experience, Mr. Sills...

Mr. SILLS: Well...

Sen. KENNEDY: ...as far as keeping those two daughters of yours going?

Mr. SILLS: We're very concerned with their future. We would like both of
them to go to college.

Sen. KENNEDY: Have you been able to put much aside as far as that?

Mr. SILLS: No, unfortunately, not right now.

Sen. KENNEDY: One of the things which I think has increased the cost of
living has been this administration's reliance upon a high interest rate
policy. My own judgment is that we're going to have to try to do a better job
in this field.

Narrator #3: Yes, we can do better, but to do so, we must elect the man who
cares about America's problems. We must elect John F. Kennedy president.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's a TV ad from John Kennedy's campaign in 1960. The ad is part
of an exhibit of presidential campaign ads called The Living Room Candidate,
on the Web site of the American Museum of the Moving Image. My guest, David
Schwartz, is the co-curator of the exhibition. We'll be back after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with David Schwartz, co-curator of an
exhibit of presidential campaign ads dating back to 1952. It's on the Web
site of the American Museum of the Moving Image.

Let's skip ahead to a 1964 ad from the Johnson campaign against Barry
Goldwater. Now it's very famous, but it was only run once as a paid political
ad. Would you describe what's happening visually in this ad? And then we'll
play the audio.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: The visuals are, again, two very simple shots that are
juxtaposed. The ad starts off with an image of a young girl who looks like
she's five or six years old, and she's in a field, picking petals off of a
daisy and counting up to 10, and that's the first shot. And as she approaches
10, the camera is zooming in, and it closes in on her eye. And then we start
to hear an ominous voice, a countdown to a nuclear explosion. And the ad
actually ends with an image of a huge mushroom cloud and the nuclear
explosion.

GROSS: OK. Let's hear the audio from this 1964 ad by the LBJ campaign.

(Soundbite of LBJ campaign ad)

Unidentified Girl: One, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine,
nine...

Unidentified Man #1: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two,
one, zero.

(Soundbite of explosion)

Vice President LYNDON JOHNSON: 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.

Unidentified Narrator #4: Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The
stakes are too high for you to stay home.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's probably the first and the last time that nuclear apocalypse
was used in a campaign ad. Why was this ad taken off the air after one run?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, this was a very effective ad, because it really played
on the fear that Barry Goldwater could get us into a nuclear war. Now
supposedly, Johnson was reluctant to run this ad. It was pretty over-the-top
in a way, because what it was saying was that if you vote for Barry Goldwater,
the world could come to an end. I mean, that's pretty extreme, even for an
attack ad. And it was controversial. As soon as the ad aired--it was shown
during a Movie of the Week broadcast of the movie "David and Bathsheba." As
soon as it aired, the switchboards lit up at the White House and also at the
network, and there were a lot of complaints from the Goldwater campaign that
this ad was just unfair.

Now what's interesting is that Barry Goldwater's name is never even mentioned
in the ad, but the public really knew that he had made some extreme statements
at the convention that year. He said that extremism in the defense of liberty
is no vice, and he had advocated the possible use of nuclear weapons in
Vietnam, tactical nuclear weapons. So this ad really played into that fear.
This was the year of "Dr. Strangelove" also. And a lot of times, what you'll
find is that the commercials reflect other things going on in the culture at
that time. So the country was afraid of nuclear war.

But the Johnson campaign tried this ad out, and they had a lot of other attack
ads that they had also made. And their idea was to just run this one time.
They thought that if you ran an ad too many times, the audience might get
bored with it. They wanted to keep trying out different ads. But what
happened was the ad instantly went from a paid advertisement to a major news
story. So as soon as the Goldwater campaign complained about it, the network
news broadcast started replaying the ad and talking about it. And so the
Johnson campaign didn't have to pay for it anymore to be on the air. It
became a news story.

GROSS: Oh, is that why they never ran it again, not because it was
controversial, but because it was getting played for free as a news story?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: It was get--sure. It was getting free play all over the
airwaves. Everybody was talking about the ad. And the networks were
rebroadcasting it for free, so why should the Johnson campaign, you know, pay
to put it on again? And they had other campaign ads that were not quite as
strong as that but were strong attack ads, and they were running those other
ads as well.

GROSS: What was the common wisdom about the lessons of this controversial
nuclear war ad?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, I think the lesson from this ad was that attack ads can
be very effective, because we saw Humphrey and Nixon in 1968 do very strong
attack ads. The ad really did two things that really worked at an emotional
level. And I think ultimately if an ad is going to be effective, it has to
work on an emotional level. One thing it did was evoke fear, fear of the end
of the world, but also fear that this little girl would be hurt, who you see.
And then the other thing that the ad did was use children, use an image of a
child. And I think children really touch a deep emotional chord. And
children can be used in ads for a lot of different purposes. They can evoke
fear; they can create a kind of warmth, an image of warmth for the candidate.
And then children can also represent the future; they can represent hope in
the future. So we started to see children in a lot of ads.

GROSS: Let's move on to an ad from 1980 for the Reagan campaign against the
incumbent, Jimmy Carter. And I was really surprised to see this ad. I don't
remember this one from television, but it's an ad featuring Nancy Reagan
sitting in a chair and talking. Describe what's happening visually in this
ad, and then we'll play it.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, we see Nancy Reagan. She's dressed in red. She looks
like a conventional image of a candidate's spouse, a potential first lady in
this case. And she's just talking directly to the camera. So we seem to be
being set up for a sort of upbeat, positive ad, where we're going to hear from
the candidate's wife maybe about how great her husband is.

GROSS: OK. Here's Nancy Reagan in 1980.

(Soundbite of political ad from 1980)

Ms. NANCY REAGAN: I deeply, deeply resent and am offended by the attacks
that President Carter has made on my husband, the personal attacks that he's
made on my husband, his attempt to paint my husband as a man he is not. He is
not a warmonger. He is not a man who is going to throw the elderly out on the
street and cut out their Social Security. That's a terrible thing to do and
to say about anybody. That's campaigning on fear.

There are many issues that are at stake in this campaign. I would like Mr.
Carter to explain to me why the inflation is as high as it is, why
unemployment is as high as it is. I would like to have him explain the
vacillating, weak foreign policy so that our friends overseas don't know what
we're going to do, whether we're going to stand up for them or whether we're
not going to stand up for them. And the issue of this campaign is his
three-and-a-half-year record.

Unidentified Man #2: The time is now for strong leadership.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Nancy Reagan in 1980, a campaign ad for her husband. Did she
have to be convinced to do this ad, do you know?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Oh, I don't know. I think that Nancy Reagan was quite happy
to be, I guess you could say, an attack dog for her husband. She was very
strong and outspoken. And the idea in the 1980 campaign was to let other
people do the dirty work and have Reagan come across as a nice guy, you know,
saying, `There you go again,' in the debate to Jimmy Carter, being affable.
So I think Nancy was quite happy to do some of the dirty work in this ad.

GROSS: Was this ad effective, do you know?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: I think this is a very effective ad because it does a really
neat trick. It starts off as a defense of her husband; it's Nancy defending
her husband from attack. And then halfway through the ad, she turns it around
and she goes on the attack against Jimmy Carter. And she's lecturing him.
She's saying, you know, `I want Jimmy Carter to answer to me.' I mean, that's
a pretty amazing way to talk to the president of the United States. And I
think some of the best politicians, the real masters of the form, know how to
sort of start off seeming nice and then go on the attack. And the whole 1980
campaign that Reagan campaigned against Carter really had to attack Jimmy
Carter as president. You know, when you have an incumbent president, you
really have to convince the country that they've done a bad job or that they
should be replaced. So I think this ad really, really did that trick.

GROSS: David Schwartz is curator of film at the American Museum of the Moving
Image and co-curator of its Internet exhibition of political campaign ads, The
Living Room Candidate. You can find the exhibition at
livingroomcandidate.movingimage.us. Schwartz will be back in the second half
of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with David Schwartz, curator
of film at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York and co-curator
of its Internet exhibition, "The Living Room Candidate." It features over 250
presidential campaign ads from every election year, beginning with 1952 when
the first TV campaign ads were broadcast. You can find the exhibition at the
Web site livingroomcandidate.movingimage.us. When we left off, we were
talking about Reagan's political ads.

Now the most famous political campaign of the Reagan era was the "Morning in
America" ad, which is, I think it's fair to say, one of the more famous
political ads in political ad history. This was in the 1984 re-election
campaign. Again, I'm going to ask you to describe what's happening visually
before we hear it.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Basically, we're seeing a montage of images. It's almost like
a moving Norman Rockwell painting. We're seeing a sort of white picket fence,
series of shots of people in a small suburban town going about their business.
It's very upbeat and positive. We don't see Ronald Reagan in the ad, and if
you're just watching the ad, it could be for almost anything. It could be an
ad for an insurance company, a beverage, any kind of product. It's an upbeat,
positive-looking, idealized view of America.

GROSS: OK, let's hear it now. And this is the "Morning in America" ad for
the Reagan campaign in 1984.

(Soundbite of music; "Morning in America" ad)

Mr. HAL RINEY: It's morning again in America. Today more men and women will
go to work than ever before in our country's history. With interest rates at
about half the record highs of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will buy new
homes, more than at any time in the past four years. This afternoon 6500
young men and women will be married. And with inflation at less than half of
what it was just four years ago, they can look forward with confidence to the
future. It's morning again in America, and under the leadership of President
Reagan, our country's prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want
to return to where we were less than four short years ago?

(Soundbite of music)

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: The Reagan campaign, 1984, "Morning in America" ad. What is your
reaction to listening to that ad like 20 years after it was made?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: What's interesting about looking back at these ads is that
they really evoke what the campaign was all about. You know, even though
these are one-minute or 30-second ads, this "Morning in America" ad really
encapsulates and summarizes what the Reagan presidency and the re-election
campaign was all about. It was really, you know, premised on this idea of
optimism, and that's what this ad evokes. I mean, what it evokes is why
people liked Reagan and why he won that landslide re-election.

GROSS: I don't know if you'll agree with this, but just in terms of, like,
the music and the announcer's voice...

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Yeah.

GROSS: ...it just kind of exemplifies what `middle of the road' meant. You
know, that kind of soothing, non-inflected voice...

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: ...with that Muzaky music behind it. And I think now, in 2004, if you
see a movie or hear an audio track that's meant to parody a certain type of...

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Right.

GROSS: ...earlier `middle of the road' sound, that's the kind of sound it
would try to evoke.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, it's true the ads really used sort of the tricks and
tools of their time, and they can tend to look a little bit dated. So you can
look back at the old ads and say, `How did they get away with that technique?'
You know, the techniques become kind of transparent over time. But they work.
And, you know, you couldn't always get away with a "Morning in America" kind
of ad, but it just happened to work at this time in 1984. The country had
gone through traumas of Vietnam and Watergate, and the country really wanted
to believe this ad. They wanted to believe it was morning in America.

GROSS: Four years after the Reagan ad that we just heard, Michael Dukakis
took out an ad saying that he had it with George H.W. Bush's misleading ads.
What was Dukakis reacting against?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Dukakis was reacting against a number of really strong attack
ads. The 1988 campaign was very, very nasty. The Bush campaign that year was
headed by Roger Ailes. And Dukakis was in very solid shape after the
Democratic convention, about 17 points up in the polls, and the ads were just
very, very strong. It was a classic campaign where the Republicans tried to
paint the Democrat as a weak Massachusetts liberal.

And there was one ad in particular that really got Dukakis upset, where he
was--they used a photo opportunity where Dukakis was riding around in a tank
in a military helmet. I mean, everybody can visualize this ad, I think,
because it's been replayed so many times. And the ad ridiculed the idea of
Dukakis as commander in chief and said that he was going to cut all these
important defense programs. Factually the ad was untrue. I mean, it was
making claims that were just plain not true. But what was really effective
was this image of Dukakis in a tank and the idea that he would look kind of
silly as commander in chief.

GROSS: So let's listen to this 1988 Dukakis ad. And, again, before we do,
I'm going to ask you to describe what we would be seeing if we were, in fact,
watching it.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: What we're going to be seeing is an angry Michael Dukakis
turning off the TV set after having watched a Bush attack ad against him. And
he's in a white shirt, sort of the Harry Truman look: you know,
plain-speaking, tough, angry Democrat. And he's talking directly to the
camera, directly to the voter.

GROSS: OK, let's hear it in 1988.

(Soundbite of 1998 Dukakis ad)

Governor MICHAEL DUKAKIS: I'm fed up with it. Haven't seen anything like it
in 25 years of public life, George Bush's negative TV ads: distorting my
record, full of lies and he knows it. I'm on the record for the very weapons
systems his ads say I'm against. I want to build a strong defense; I'm sure
he wants to build a strong defense. So this isn't about defense issues. It's
about dragging the truth into the gutter, and I'm not going to let them do it.
This campaign is too important, the stakes are too high for every American
family. The real question is: Will we have a president who fights for the
privileged few, or will we have a president who fights for you? George Bush
wants to give the wealthiest 1 percent of the people in this country a new tax
break worth $30,000 a year. I'm fighting for you and your family, for
affordable housing and health care, for better jobs, for the best education
and opportunity for our children. It's a tough fight, I know that, uphill all
the way. But I'm going to keep on fighting because what I'm fighting for is
our future.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: A Michael Dukakis campaign ad in 1988.

Well, this is a very literal counterattack. I mean, he's watching the TV with
the ad against him. He turns it off, says to the audience, `This is
misleading. They're misrepresenting me.' How do you think it played? Do you
have any idea if it registered on the American public? I'm sure it's what a
lot of candidates would like to do--You know what I mean?--who feel that
they've been misrepresented by an ad.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, what's really interesting about this ad is that Dukakis
had been criticized earlier in the campaign for not responding to attacks. He
was being attacked every day by the Bush campaign, and he wasn't fighting
back. And then he decided to fight back. And I think the problem with
fighting back and being so direct in your response is that you can start to
look defensive. You know, if you go on the air responding to every single
attack, it puts you in a defensive position.

And one of the real interesting things when you look at the ads from 1952 to
the present is there's some very basic strategies that are used over and over
again. The Republicans love to say that they're strong on military, and that
if you vote for the Democrat, they're going to cut our defense system and
they'll be weak. And they love to say that they're going to cut your taxes.
The Democrats love to say, `We're going to fight for the average person.' And
that's what you hear in this ad.

GROSS: David Schwartz is curator of film at the American Museum of the Moving
Image and co-curator of its Internet exhibition of presidential campaign ads,
"The Living Room Candidate." You can find the exhibition at
livingroomcandidate.movingimage.us.

Our interview was recorded in 2004 when the exhibition was launched. They'll
be updating it to include ads from the 2008 presidential campaign.

Coming up, how Lincoln put past rivalries behind him for the good of the
country. We'll hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses her new book, "Team of
Rivals"
TERRY GROSS, host:

In his campaign for president, Abraham Lincoln was opposed by three powerful
men, but later he brought these men into his cabinet. Doris Kearns Goodwin
wrote about Lincoln's political genius in her book "Team of Rivals." She says
in her effort to to illuminate the character and career of Lincoln, she
coupled the account of his life with the stories of the remarkable men who
were his rivals for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination: New York
Senator William H. Seward, Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase and Missouri's
distinguished elder statesman Edward Bates. Lincoln appointed Seward
secretary of State, Chase secretary of the Treasury, and Bates attorney
general.

Doris Kearns Goodwin has just been awarded the 16th annual Lincoln Prize for
her book "Team of Rivals." She won a Pulitzer for her book "No Ordinary Time"
about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and has also written books about Lyndon
Johnson and the Kennedys.

I spoke with her about Lincoln in 2005, when "Team of Rivals" was published.

Your book focuses on Cabinet members who were his rivals, who actually wanted
the nomination for president from the Republican Party. Why would he choose
his rivals to be in his Cabinet?

Ms. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I mean, it seemed at the time an
unprecedented act because people hadn't done that in previous years. And
these men were not only his rivals, but they were so much better known than he
was. Seward had been the governor and senator from New York. We was so much
considered the possibility of being the person who would win the nomination
that 10,000 people were waiting outside his home in Auburn to celebrate. The
champagne had already been stocked in the local restaurants. And he thought
when he was made secretary of State that he would actually run the show and
Lincoln would be just simply some sort of puppet. But, in fact, Seward and he
ended up becoming great friends.

I think Lincoln had an internal confidence that even though these men thought
they should have been president, similarly Chase of Ohio thought he should
have been president; Bates of Missouri, an elder statesman; Stanton, who
eventually becomes secretary of War, had humiliated Lincoln once when they
were young lawyers together. But he was able to put those past rivalries
beside him, knowing that if these guys do a good job, then it will only be
down to the interests of the country and obviously to his own interest as
well. And it meant that he had to have, much more than they realized, a
sense, `I think I can handle these guys. I can master them.' And he did.

GROSS: Well, what do you think Lincoln did to bring together this Cabinet of
rivals?

Ms. GOODWIN: Well, what he had going for him, which I think is so unusual in
political life, is that he had a set of emotional strengths that today we
might call emotional intelligence. So when all sorts of rivalries sprung up
with these guys and when they got hurt with one another, when they would call
each other names--I mean, if we ever heard what they were calling each other
then in today's parlance--liar, traitor, thief--I mean, and these things are
being said in Cabinet meetings--but he was somehow able to be in the center of
that storm.

When one of their feelings would be hurt, he'd be able to write a letter
saying, `If I hurt you in any way, I did not mean to do so. Forgive me for
things that I might do hastily.' When he was upset with somebody, he would
write what he called a hot letter, where he would write it all down and then
he would put it aside until his emotions cooled down and then write, `Never
sent, never signed.' And there was a sense about him where he was just kind
and sensitive to them. If one of them was feeling he was spending too much
time with another one, he would call that one aside and give him a special
time to walk together or to go on a carriage ride together.

So what he essentially did is what a great politician does, which is to
understand that human relationships are at the core of political success. And
he somehow managed these people, who, as I say, oftentimes hated one another,
wouldn't even go into the same room with each other after a while.

It's almost unimaginable that he was able to keep this group together, but the
success in keeping it together meant they also represented very different
spectrums of political opinion, from very conservative to moderate to radical.
And as long as he could keep that coalition together by keeping these people
inside the tent, he was actually keeping those strands in the country together
as well.

GROSS: What was considered radical then?

Ms. GOODWIN: Well, what was considered radical then was the idea that early
on you wanted to make emancipation the central focus of the war. And then
later on, even after emancipation was made the focus, the radicals were more
desiring to make the South pay for having gotten us into this war, in their
judgment, and to wreak vengeance on them in order to be able to make sure that
the old social structure would not come back in the South, whereas the
conservatives were thinking that the Union was more important than
emancipation. And also at the end of the war, they wanted to make sure that
the South came back in a more gentle way, so that the Union would be
preserved, even if it meant not punishing the leaders of the South, who had
been part of the Confederate cause.

GROSS: And where did Lincoln stand?

Ms. GOODWIN: Lincoln stood in the middle on all these things--I mean,
naturally in the middle, not because he was positioning himself in the middle.
At the start of the war he thought that the Union was the most important thing
and that emancipation he wasn't sure was something that he as president could
do anything about, much as he might have wanted to, because it was in the
Constitution protected. So he thought the most important thing was to get a
constitutional amendment to eradicate it, which he eventually did.

But by the middle of the war, he came to understand that, as president, he
would have powers as commander in chief, when a military necessity was at
issue, to be able to do something about the slaves. And the slaves were being
used to help the South. They were digging the trenches. They were acting as
cooks. They were protecting the home front when those soldiers went off to
war. And they just unbalanced--gave so much benefit to the Confederacy as
opposed to the North that he finally was able to decide legalistically that if
he issued a cry for the emancipation as a military necessity, he would have
that power to do it. Eventually you need a constitutional amendment, so he
moved toward what might have been the radical side.

GROSS: What did he do to hold together this group of people within the
Cabinet who had such differing views about what the fate of the South should
be and what emancipation should look like?

Ms. GOODWIN: Well, I think partly what he did was to move step by step
toward emancipation. Lincoln began to move toward certain steps that would
allow the Army, for example, if slaves came into the Army camp, to take them
into the camp and keep them protected from the Southern slave owners. And
these steps allowed him to move some of the conservative members to see,
`Well, we did that, and it didn't produce some sort of race war,' because the
conservatives were always afraid if you emancipated, there'd be this
incredible servile war in the South, so that it got them accustomed to the
idea.

And finally, however--the interesting thing is when he finally made the
decision to emancipate the slaves, he called his Cabinet together, and he told
them, `I want to tell you what I've decided, and I will listen to your
comments, but I want you to know I've made this decision.' I think he finally
knew that if he put it up to a vote or a discussion, then it might make it
harder for these people to understand that this was his decision. And the
only thing he did was he accepted their thoughts on the style of it. He
accepted Seward's advice that he not issue--he was going to issue it in the
summer of 1862, and the war was going very badly for the North. And Seward
said he thought it would look like he was just desperate and that it wasn't an
act of considered opinion. `Why not wait for a victory to issue it?' And
Lincoln took that into consideration, agreed with Seward and waited until the
Battle of Antietam was fought and successfully resolved before he finally said
he was going to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

So I guess in some ways what it meant was he listened to them as he was going
along, but he finally had to decide for himself what he was going to do and
then just tell the Cabinet in a very forceful way, `This is what I'm going to
do. I'd like you to think about it, but it's my decision.'

GROSS: What happened to these Cabinet members that you write about, the team
of rivals, after Lincoln was assassinated?

Ms. GOODWIN: Oh, it's so interesting what happens to them. I mean, first of
all, Chase is one of the more interesting pieces of the story. He was one of
the few Cabinet members who never did accept Lincoln's primacy. So even in
1863, in 1864, he was plotting to run against Lincoln for that second
nomination so that he could beat Lincoln and become the president. Lincoln
knew everything he was doing, he was aware. Lincoln had incredible tentacles,
so he knew what was going on, but he somehow kept him inside the tent rather
than letting them go inside. And then finally, Chase did resign from the
office of secretary of Treasury. He had embarrassed himself in many ways so
much because it became known what he was doing against Lincoln.

But then in the fall of 1864, after Lincoln had won the election, he appointed
Chase to the vacancy that arose in the Supreme Court when the chief justice
died, giving him the highest position on the Supreme Court even though he
said, `I'd rather swallow a chair than do this to Chase,' who he didn't like,
but he knew that Chase, who was an abolitionist, would be the best protector
for the rights of the newly freed slaves.

GROSS: Well, William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of State, wasn't he shot
during the assassination?

Ms. GOODWIN: You know, I hadn't fully realized what happened to William
Seward. During the assassination attempt, John Wilkes Booth really had a
triple assassination in mind. He wanted to get Seward, the secretary of
State, he wanted to get Andrew Johnson, the vice president, and, of course,
Lincoln. So he took Lincoln on for himself. The person who was supposed to
kill Andrew Johnson chickened out and didn't go to Johnson's hotel.

But the man who was assigned to Seward went to Seward's house at Lafayette
Park and he'd managed to get inside. Seward had had a carriage accident about
a week and a half before, and his jaw had been broken. He was up in a bed, so
he pretended he was bringing medicine up to Seward. But Seward's son
understood that something was wrong, as he barrelled up the stairs and tried
to stop him. He then took the blunt end of a revolver and hit Seward's
son--who was his assistant secretary of State--on the head so badly that he
was in a coma for days. He then took out a knife and slashed two or three
other people, came into the room, slashed Seward's entire cheek off and just
happened to miss the artery that would have killed him. And he then ran out
and slashed another couple of his people on the way out. So it was one of
these extraordinary moments in Seward's family life, and--however, he somehow
managed to pull through. And, in fact, his son also came out of the coma and
pulled through.

And the incredibly sad thing was that his wife, Frances Seward, who was torn
apart by the thought that she was losing her son and her husband, was so tense
that she wrote an article in which she said, `I've never before believed in
vicarious suffering, but I think somehow that my son and my husband are
getting well that I've taken their suffering onto myself.' And in May, only a
month or so later, she died and no one knew quite what she had died from, and
she was not an old woman. So the Seward family was forever broken by that
event.

But the part, I think, that got to me the most emotionally was that they
didn't want to tell Seward that Lincoln had been killed knowing how close
friends they were. So they kept his news from them. But finally, he looked
out the window and he saw the flag at half-mast and he turned around--he said,
`I know Lincoln is dead.' They tried to say, `No, no, that's not true.' He
said, `I know he's dead. If he were alive, he would have been the first one
here to see me after my knife attack,' and then great tears coursed down his
cheeks and he knew then his chief was dead.

GROSS: We're talking with Doris Kearns Goodwin about her book "Team of
Rivals." We'll talk more about Lincoln after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with presidential historian Doris
Kearns Goodwin about Abraham Lincoln, the subject of her book "Team of
Rivals."

A recent book about Lincoln says that he was gay or bisexual. I haven't
actually read the book, so I confess--so I'm not sure which it asserts. But
have you reached any conclusions about the president's sexual orientation?

Ms. GOODWIN: Well, you know, one of the great things about the comparative
perspective is when you see something like somebody claiming that Lincoln was
gay, you can look at what the evidence is and look at it in relationship to
all these other guys, as well. For example, it is said that because he slept
in a bed with his best friend Joshua Speed for three years that that's one
indicator of the possibility that he was gay. They also point to letters that
Lincoln wrote to Speed which were quite affectionate and full of feeling, of
intense feeling.

But if those are the measures, then almost all my guys--as I sometimes call
these Cabinet members--would be looked at as being gay, because it was very
common for men to sleep in beds together. In fact, when Lincoln was on the
circuit in Illinois, they would all travel around the state together--the
judge and the bailiffs and the criminals sometimes and the lawyers--and they'd
stay in the same boardinghouses where there weren't enough beds. So sometimes
two or three lawyers would be in a bed together.

And then when I looked at the affectionate letters that Lincoln wrote to
Speed, his friend, they were nowhere near the intensity of some of the other
letters that I found. For example, when two of his Cabinet members, Chase and
Stanton, were young men in their 30s, they had both lost their wives and were
very lonely and became very close friends. And I found these letters that
Stanton wrote to Chase at the time saying, `Since our pleasant intercourse
last summer, no one has been on my mind more waking and sleeping. I dream of
you at night. I can't wait to sit by the fire and hold your hand and tell you
"I love you."'

I do not think any charges were ever made or any thoughts that these other men
were gay, and I think that just means that men were more free in that age to
express their deep feelings for one another. There was very little friendship
between men and women because women were so chaperoned, so that women and
women formed very close friendships; men and men formed close friendships.
But I don't think that we can imply from that that sexual contact or sexual
intimacy was the end result of those letters or the sleeping in the same bed.

GROSS: Now that we know so much more about depression than we used to,
historians are starting to examine how, you know, depression may have affected
important figures, including Lincoln. Do you have any new thoughts about what
you describe as his, you know, melancholy temperament and how that affected
him as a leader?

Ms. GOODWIN: I came away feeling that rather than suffering from chronic
depression, that Lincoln did have a melancholy temperament from the time he
was born. There's a writer named Jerry Kagan who studied children from the
ages of zero to 20, and argues if you look at them even three months, six
months old, you can divide them into whether or not they have a melancholy or
a sanguine kind of optimistic temperament. And clearly, I think Lincoln had
that melancholy temperament.

But he also had enormous resources all the way along to figure out how to get
himself out of his sad moods; humor being one of them, conversation. During
the Civil War, he would go to the play when he wanted to. He went to the
theater a hundred times during the Civil War, if not more. He would go to the
battlefront when he felt sad over the loss of a battle to talk to the
soldiers. He had an acute awareness, I think, of his own needs. And except
for two depressions which we know about--one when his first love, Ann
Rutledge, died--which it's natural for somebody to fall into a
depression--and, secondly, there were a series of events that took place when
he was in his 30s. His best friend, Joshua Speed, was leaving town, his
political career had suffered a blow and he had broken his engagement to Mary
Todd Lincoln and he really did feel overwhelmed then by depression. And we
have letters that he wrote saying that he was the most miserable man on Earth,
that if everybody felt like he did, there would not be one cheerful face on
Earth.

And he actually was so frightening to his friends that they removed all razors
and scissors from his room fearing that he might take his life. But his best
friend Joshua Speed came to his side and said, `Lincoln, if you do not rally,
you will die.' And he said, `I would just assume die now, but I haven't done
anything yet to be remembered by.' He had this dream from the time he was
young that he was so fearful of just dying and turning to dust that somehow if
he could accomplish something great--this is the way the Greeks used to
think--your name would be remembered after you die. And that powered through
the early losses of his childhood, it powered through his early days in the
state Legislature and it helped get him out of this depression.

And the great thing is that many years later, when he finally signed the
Emancipation Proclamation, Joshua Speed came to see him and he said, `Well,
Speed, remember that conversation we had when I was in my depths? Well, maybe
at last my fondest wish has been realized. I will be remembered after I die.'

GROSS: Well, Doris Kearns Goodwin, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. GOODWIN: You are so welcome. It's a great pleasure to talk with you
again.

GROSS: Doris Kearns Goodwin recorded in 2005 after the publication of her
book "Team of Rivals." It was just awarded the 16th Annual Lincoln Prize.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

A more moderate Taliban? An Afghan journalist says nothing has changed

Afghan British journalist Najibullah Quraishi has had trouble sleeping for more than two hours a stretch ever since the U.S. withdrew troops from Afghanistan in August and the Taliban came back into power. Quraishi grew up in Afghanistan under Soviet and Taliban rule, and began reporting on the Taliban before the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks and the onset of the U.S. Afghan war. He's currently in Kabul reporting for his upcoming PBS Frontline documentary, Taliban Takeover, (airing Oct. 12) which details life in Afghanistan now.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue