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The Living Room Candidate: Historical Presidential Campaign Commercials

September 25, 2012

by Amy Davis

What is a social studies teacher to do with television being dominated by presidential campaign advertisements?  It is very tempting to be cynical and decry the commercialization of politics in our culture.  An alternative pedagogical route would be to provide the historical background of presidential commercials.

The thirteenth edition of The American Pageant provides a critical analysis of the 1952 presidential campaign.   This campaign marked a major change over time, as it represented the first time in which presidential candidates used heavy doses of television ads in order to gain votes.  Bailey, et al, on page 887 of that edition, critiques the Eisenhower camp’s political ads, stating that they were “tightly scripted,” “devoid of substance,” and that they “vastly oversimplified complicated economic and social issues.”  All of this, the historians claim, “foreshadowed the future of political advertising.”

Are these claims true?  One website that may help a teacher answer this question and provide historical insight to presidential commercials for students.  The Living Room Candidate is a treasure trove of many of the most influential presidential campaign advertisements from the television age.  By going to their 1952 campaign site, a teacher can get students to critically evaluate the claims of American Pageant.

Were Ike’s commercials “tightly scripted“?

Were Ike’s commercials “devoid of substance“?

Did they “oversimplify complicated economic issues“?

Of course, teachers should not overlook the Adlai Stevenson campaign either.  Why would your students make of these ads?

Adlai to You

Ike…Bob

Platform Double Talk

 

Be sure also to note the very helpful tabs that provide context to the campaign under the headings “1952,” “Eisenhower,” “Stevenson,” and “Results.”

"Selling the President like toothpaste" --The American Pageant

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