The Democracy Project.
for this program was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
and by the annual financial support of viewers like you.
It's like reaching for the moon...
The script was a little short...
I'm Dylan Glenn...
Over the $200,000 mark...
It's like reaching for the sun...
Did you see me on TV?
She spent about a million dollars...
It's like reaching for the stars...
How did you ever hear of him?
Six million dollars of false attack ads...
Reaching for you...
It's all name I.D.
We're rolling. Okay, five seconds. Quiet, please. And action.
I'm gonna get you. I'm gonna get you. I'll make you love me, wait
and see. Both day and night, and night and day, you're gonna see a
lot of me. I'm gonna haunt you...
...should wave at that lady...
I'm a candidate for United States Congress...
Both day and night, and night and day, you're gonna see a lot of me...
A candidate does not exist until he's appeared on television.
If I'm trying to sell a candidate in six months with a small budget,
I don't have a lot of time to goof around.
We got $500,000 from Armey, $500,000 from Drier...
We're rolling. Take four. Quiet, please.
Paid for by friends of Dylan Glenn, Jim Dyke, treasurer. Paid for
by friends of Dylan Glenn... (laughs) I hate this.
$500,000 from Livingston...
Is there anything you can do to get more dough while you're here shaking
$100,000 from Com-Best...
I do believe that it's true that you've got to have the money to get
it off the ground. If you don't have the money-- (bumping noise) Oh,
I'm gonna get you. I'm gonna get you...
They do more mudslinging than inform the voters.
They inform voters more than a bunch of fluffy positives, often.
When it gets dirty and when it gets muddy...
You can respond or you can lose.
And you can't be a sissy boy.
Attacking, smearing, denounced, despicable ad...
It's better than a vacation.
So, open your arms and you'll open the door to every treasure that
I'm hoping for. Hold me and kiss me and tell me you're mine ever more...
It's ugly. It's messy. It's freedom.
My fate is up to you...
As the 1998 election year began, even before there was Monica, there
was money. The true currency of American politics isn't always titillation,
it's television. In 1998, a primary election in California cost over
big-time Washington consultants are called upon in even the nation's
poorest Congressional Districts.
I appreciate all your help in this deal...
By the time November 3 arrives, a billion dollars will have been spent
on political advertising. But before we point the finger or pass the
blame, is the television air war really so terrible?
If I had a choice between watching what you typically see in news
about campaigns and your typical ad, I would watch the typical ad.
I think you can learn a lot through advertising, especially if you're
willing to take a step back and to try to ask yourself, "What are
they trying to get me to think with this ad?"
Basically, Washington is very ineffective. Don't we need to compel
change? Maybe we need more negative commercials, not less.
However you view them, TV commercials provide the real monologue for
contemporary American politics. But to understand how we got here,
to understand 1998, we have to go back 50 years and the last commercial-free
fall of 1948, Harry Truman crisscrossed the country by rail. He traveled
thousands of miles, speaking to millions of voters. It was our last
true whistle-stop campaign. Everything in American politics was about
the next few years, the post-war baby boom prompted an explosion of
new home construction-- homes that would feature a new American fixture.
A magnificent cabinet, plus television...
It was a time of new prosperity and new products.
Meet the "Champ." Electric ironer, air conditioner unit, the sensational
And by 1952, the techniques used to promote toothpaste...
New package, new flavor, new formula, too...
Were available to promote politicians, as well.
Eisenhower's people were very connected. Many of the people around
Eisenhower were also connected to Madison Avenue. They were friends,
people they lunched with. And the idea of using advertising was not
offensive to them.
One of those associates was Rosser Reeves, an early advertising kingpin,
who created some of our most memorable ad campaigns.
This one did, see? No chocolate mess. m&m's milk chocolate melts in
your mouth, not in your hand.
Now Rosser Reeves was ready to undertake a different kind of campaign.
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, bring the drum, we'll take Ike to Washington. We'll
take Ike to Washington. We'll take Ike to Washington.
Democrats, led by nominee Adlai Stevenson attacked Republicans for
selling the presidency.
It is not a commodity to be packaged and plugged and pushed for campaign
Stevenson was a very old-fashioned man in a lot of ways. He was, in
many ways, a 19th century man. He kept an extensive correspondence.
He labored over his speeches. Political rhetoric was very important
to him. The idea of having to compact his speech was offensive to
That attitude didn't endear Adlai to advertisers. When he ran a second
time for the presidency in 1956, no major ad agency was willing to
produce commercials for the Stevenson campaign.
television was in nearly nine out of ten American homes. And the telegenic
John F. Kennedy signaled the age of the new camera-ready candidate.
And as the 1960s unfolded, so too did the character of the 30-second
This particular phone only rings in a serious crisis...
In 1964, the Democrats had a specific advertising goal. Promote Lyndon
Johnson by reinforcing fears of Barry Goldwater.
Girl: Seven, six, six, eight, nine, nine...
Countdown: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one...
Johnson: These are the stakes-- to make a world in which all of God's
children can live.
The commercial ran only once. But it forever changed how we view political
It shows how much, we as audiences, bring to the act of communication
and how much we invest in the process of drawing conclusions. And
so, in the context of 1964, seeing the child picking the daisy, seeing
the nuclear explosion, hearing the Johnson statement-- and that is
actually is all that's in that ad-- elicits in the audience its fears
of Goldwater. There's no explicit reference to Goldwater, but in that
context, that's what some people heard. But secondly, the ad's important
because it got so much free news play. It was a news ad. There was
no intent-- and you see this in the strategy memos from '64-- to air
that repeatedly. It aired once. The intent was to get news play. It
The ad had enormous impact and greatly influenced the direction of
American politics. The era of the 30-second candidate had truly begun.
There's this myth, now, that we're spin doctors, that we're out there
to take something that's true and turn it into something that isn't.
And that I think a better way to look at it is the old story of the
blind man who is sitting on the sidewalk in New York City with his
dog and his cup and a little sign around his neck that said, "I am
blind." And of course, in New York City, nobody stops and puts anything
in the cup-- until the advertising guy walks by. And he sees what's
going on. He pulls out his marker and he writes a couple of words
on the little sign. Then, he goes to the corner to watch. And all
of a sudden, somebody walks by and drops a quarter in. Somebody else
walks by and drops a dollar. And nothing had changed, but everything
had. What had he written on the little sign? And where it had only
said, "I am blind," he had written, "It is spring and I am blind."
And what he'd done is he had taken something fundamentally true and
had not changed it, but just elevated it, made it something a little
more personable. It touched your life.
...our common sense Senator...
And that's our job in a campaign.
Alex Castellanos is one of this country's best-known Republican consultants.
His journey to the top began as a Cuban immigrant, an experience that
shaped his core beliefs-- and the ad that made him famous-- a last-minute,
election-saving ad for Jesse Helms.
That spot sure caused a lot of trouble, didn't it? I'm very proud
of it. I believe every bit of it. My name is Castellanos. My son is
named Castellanos. And maybe, you know, one day he could get a job
or he could get some deal because he's of some ethnic minority and
all of that. I hope he never does. I think that lessens you.
You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had
to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.
The guy in the checked shirt actually was the camera man, just because
he happened to be dressed right. I was running the camera. And we
just flipped the camera over to his ring side, so we could see his
wedding ring, and again, let everyone know there's a family depending
Your vote on this issue next Tuesday-- for racial quotas: Harvey Gant,
against racial quotas: Jesse Helms.
What makes that ad is not technique, it's truth. It says something
big and true that Americans believe. And that is, you shouldn't get
a job or be denied a job because of the color of your skin. Tell me
you don't believe that?
30-second spots, by themselves, really are pretty dead. But if you
tell a story through a series of 15 or 16 30-second spots that unfold
over a period eight or nine weeks, then you've done the equivalent
of a kind of an interrupted documentary, which is maybe why I feel
most comfortable, since I started as a documentary film maker.
Bob Squier has been a leading Democratic advertising consultant for
decades. He, too, believes that ads tell important stories. In 1996,
the storyline was how to re-elect a president. The client was Bill
He was a very good client. I don't think he changed-- this is almost
heresy to say on camera-- I don't think he changed ten things in the
material that we presented to him after we got to the final product
of the advertising.
Let me say to you that I am honored to have been given the opportunity
to stand up for the values and interests of ordinary Americans.
The great candidates have a really good touch for the public voice
and understand the public voice. What you want to do, is you want
to be talking to voters about something they really care about.
The values we embrace in the things we fight for will shape the future.
I remember during the campaign, Republicans and a lot of reporters
saying, you know, what Clinton and Gore are talking about are such
tiny little things that they're of no matter. Well, what they weren't
seeing was that they fit a pattern. And the pattern was "help to the
American family." Everything fit that pattern.
Squier's Republican counterpart in the 1996 presidential race was
Alex Castellanos, who wanted to find the best story he could tell
about Bob Dole.
My mission in the campaign is to find the truest thing you can say
about the candidate I represent and elevate it.
After lying wounded in a fox hole for almost nine hours...
Reveal it in some dramatic way.
Bob Dole was completely paralyzed. He spent 39 months in hospitals.
The family didn't have the money for medical treatment...
The little town of Russell had raised money for him so he could have
an operation and learn to walk again. That is an important thing about
Bob Dole. He never forgot those people. Never would. He'd never betray
those folks. That was the best story to tell about Bob Dole. You know,
he's a decent man at a time when a lot of folks didn't feel that was
terribly important. They might feel differently today. This last election
should have been a referendum on Bill Clinton. Do we want to keep
him? And instead, the Clinton people, I think, used advertising very
well to keep the spotlight on Bob Dole and what's wrong with him.
Republican's say double premiums, deductibles, no coverage if you're
He was out talking to some very right wing groups, bragging about
things like killing Medicare in committee.
I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare...
He was very clear about wanting to be the nominee, but seemed to be
very confused about running for president.
I'm not certain what everybody's looking for in a candidate for president.
Maybe you're not-- shouldn't have any at all.
And that was almost as if he had suddenly spoken the truth. He just
said it. Not many people had seen it. And we thought it was worthy
of more exposure.
But there's going to be one. Every country ought to have one, and
so we're out here campaigning.
Often, when you're in that circumstance and you need to tell some
hard truths, the very best way to do it is to have it come out of
the mouth of the candidate that is your opponent.
I think the Dole campaign-- the fundamental problem is that we were
campaigning without a candidate. Bob Dole's a great guy. But he didn't
really have a clear direction of where he wanted to lead the country.
The presidential campaign of 1996 also foreshadowed forces that would
shape this year's elections, including the increasing role of political
consultants and the advertising clout of outside groups. Trends that
would take on a new twist as the 1998 election year began.
I'm a volunteer with the Lois Capps for Congress campaign. Oh, wonderful.
And don't forget, Tuesday.
Go, Tom, go!
We're just calling to see if we might be able to count on your support.
It looks like it's going to be a very close election.
It's down to the final hours of this year's first campaign. How it
turns out will say a lot about the year ahead in politics.
For the past three months, residents of the central coast have been
bombarded with political messages. At stake? A special election to
determine who should fill out the term of the late Democratic Congressman
Walter Capps. The candidates to replace him are his widow...
I'm Lois Capps. I'm a nurse, a teacher...
And State Representative, Tom Bordonaro.
The central coast has been my home for 20 years...
It's the first prize of 1998. And candidates, along with outside interest
groups, are pulling out all the stops, spending nearly $3 million