08.09.2016 12:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: Daisy redux

Since the late 1960s, we progressives have been trying to get back what we once had.

That’s not to say that we have been incapable of winning in the interim, of course. Jean Chretien, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau have shown that we can, when the circumstances are right, beat back conservatives. But if we are honest with ourselves, we should acknowledge that recessions and a fractured Right certainly didn’t hurt our chances.

For quite some time, in North America and Europe, the Right has been winning, and the Left has been doing the opposite. But back in the early 1960s, we had the better ideas. We knew what we had to say, and how to say it, too. That’s because we had the likes of Tony Schwartz.

Never heard of him? Many haven’t. He was an exceedingly modest man, and because he was agoraphobic, he rarely even left the brownstone where he lived and worked in Manhattan. He didn’t seek publicity; he shunned it. Despite that, I caught up with him a few years before his death in 2008.

For a lot of us who work on progressive campaigns, Tony Schwartz was a giant. Before many of us were even born – and long before far-Right snake oil purveyors and mendacious con men took control of the airwaves and the legislatures, driving discord and division, à la Trump – Tony Schwartz literally transformed modern politics, and in just 60 seconds, too.

He did in just one minute what it takes other progressives lifetimes to learn. He created a symbol, one that endures nearly 50 years later. He connected with the hearts of minds of average people, using language that spoke to their values, and their identities and their lives. For progressives, he changed everything.

He did so on September 7, 1964, when he conceived and produced a single Democratic Party TV spot which, among other things, won Lyndon Baines Johnson the presidency – a spot which radically revised the way in which advocacy and campaigns were thereafter done.

“Daisy,” as it is now universally known, is filmed in grainy black and white. It starts off with a little girl, about four or five, standing in a field. She has long, blondish hair, and she’s looking at a flower – a daisy – as the commercial begins. Almost singing, she is counting as she plucks petals. “One, two, three, four, five,” she says, quietly.

Abruptly, the girl stops and looks up, surprised. The mood changes. A man’s voice is suddenly heard, echoing and harsh and loud, and he’s counting, too. As he does so, the camera moves in on the little girl. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four,” he barks, and all that can be seen are the child’s eyes, which are now clearly afraid. “Three, two, one…” The shot moves into her iris, and suddenly there is an explosion: the screen is filled with a gritty image of an atomic bomb being detonated. The girl is gone. As the mushroom cloud reaches upward, filling the sky, another voice is heard: the voice of Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States, and the Democratic Party’s candidate.

“These are the stakes,” he says in his Texan twang, and without emotion. “To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark.” There’s a pause. “We must either love each other, or we must die.” The screen goes black, and a few words appear in white: “VOTE FOR PRESIDENT JOHNSON ON NOVEMBER 3.” Then there’s another male voice: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

“Daisy” ran only once as a paid TV ad, during Gregory Peck’s ‘David and Bathsheba’ on Monday Night at the Movies. An estimated 50 million Americans saw it. Even now, so many years later, it is incredibly powerful and dramatic. And, when the results were announced early on November 4, 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson won by a landslide. Barry Goldwater, meanwhile, barely won his home state, by less than one per cent. Out of fifty states, the Republican nominee took only six. “Daisy,” most felt, had helped to demolish the conservatives’ campaign.

Why does Daisy matter, 52 years later? Why the history lesson?

Because Daisy’s hour has come around again. Because the stakes are too high, again. Just a few days ago, it was revealed that Donald Trump – like Barry Goldwater before him – said this: “Somebody hits us, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?…If we have them, why can’t we use them?”

Progressives – Democrats, Liberals, New Democrats, Progressive Conservatives – now know that the 2016 presidential campaign is the one for all the marbles. They must win.

It’s time to re-run a Daisy-style campaign. And it’s time to utterly destroy Donald Trump – like Tony Schwartz destroyed Barry Goldwater, more than a half-century ago.

The stakes are too high to do otherwise.


  1. Eric Weiss says:

    “Progressives – Democrats, Liberals, New Democrats – now know that the 2016 presidential campaign is the one for all the marbles. They must win.”

    Plenty of us conservatives do to. Trump is the absolute worst candidate to ever run for POTUS.

  2. Innocent III says:

    While I realize that it diminish the excitement that journalists feel compelled to whip up, there is very little chance that Mr Trump is going to win this. Instead, things appear to be moving to a landslide for the Democrats so long as Ms Clinton isn’t indicted or women are somehow stripped of the right to vote. Have a look at http://www.fivethirtyeight.com. However, it is by no mens clear that Democratic landslide will be a good thing given the Democratic nominee’s earlier stands on invading Iraq (for) or same-sex marriage (against).

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