Op-ed: Daisy then and now

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, May 21, 2016 7:22pm
  • Opinion

I wonder if the Democrats’ plans against Donald Trump include reprising the “Daisy” ad. It was a major success in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson’s campaign released it in an effort to portray Republican nominee Barry Goldwater as a dangerous wild man. It simply featured a 3-year-old girl innocently counting petals and ended with a nuclear explosion, then a voice-over: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd; the stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

The Democrats have made no bones about the fact they will hammer at Trump as an even wilder thing, one who has already blown up the rest of the Republican candidates with hateful rhetoric and insults. Come to think of it, the 1964 campaign was kind of tame compared with the nastiness we can expect this time around. The attacks against him they’ve already launched make the “Daisy” ad look like, uh, child’s play. (By the way, it had a huge impact, even though it ran only once. In this Internet era, nothing runs only once.)

Of course, the Trump forces are already planning their own barrage, hammering at Hillary Clinton’s negatives. When the Clintonistas charge misogyny, the Trumpsters will dredge up Bill Clinton’s record with women. When the Clinton people hammer at The Donald’s inconsistencies and lies, his troops will storm right back by unloading on The Hillary’s reputation for dishonesty.

It won’t be pretty, but it’s worked so far for Trump, who has taken the Republicans and turned them upside down, leaving party regulars in a pile. But his adopted party is not the only one with unity problems. Witness the Democrats’ melee in Las Vegas, which certainly didn’t stay there. It was a delegate-selection process that went awry, complete with chair-throwing and physical threats from the supporters of Bernie Sanders, who accuse the party’s establishment of unfairly thwarting their efforts at every turn. Sanders, who refuses to go quietly into the night, has been tepid with his reactions to the violence, suggesting it’s the natural anger of those trying to take on the political/economic machine.

Trump and Sanders both have tapped into the fury of those who are finally realizing that the system has ripped them off. That has particularly helped insulate Trump from the constant accusations that he’s way over his head. Millions of Americans are disgusted by the performance of those who present themselves as all-knowing, but have only a world in shambles to show for it. Trump and Sanders both campaign, in their own ways, against the status quo. Assuming Sanders finally gives up the ghost, a YUUUGE question is whether his millions of supporters will be too alienated to support Hillary Clinton’s crusade to deny Trump the keys to the White House.

What an obnoxiously negative campaign this will be. It will make that “Daisy” ad look quaint. If you haven’t seen it before, call it up and watch. It was powerful for an age when there were still some rules of politeness. It should be pointed out that it was Lyndon Johnson, after his landslide victory over Goldwater, who used deceit to drag the United States into a full-blown war in Vietnam. We never really recovered from the destruction of so many lives and the serious damage to national pride. We were left with a cynicism that cripples our country to this day. Certainly, campaigns have long concluded that politeness is for suckers, and so are ethics.

Winning is everything, and selling out to the special financial interests is acceptable — corrupt, but acceptable. As we enter the final dash for the presidency between Clinton and Trump, the bombardment will be brutal. The outcome is truly in doubt, but whoever gets elected will be taking over a country that is largely scorched earth.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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