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Daisy”, sometimes known as “Daisy Girl” or “Peace, Little Girl”, was a controversial political advertisement aired on television during the 1964 United States presidential election by incumbent president Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign. Though only aired once (by the campaign), it is considered an important factor in Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater and an important turning point in political and advertising history. It was created by Art Director Sid Myers and Copywriter Stan Lee of Doyle Dane Bernbach with Tony Schwartz. It remains one of the most controversial political advertisements ever made.

In the 1964 election, Republican Barry Goldwater campaigned on a right-wing message of cutting social programs and pursuing aggressive military action. Goldwater’s campaign suggested a willingness to use nuclear weapons in situations when others would find that unacceptable, something which Johnson sought to capitalize on. For example, Johnson used Goldwater’s speeches to imply that he would willingly wage a nuclear war, quoting Goldwater: “by one impulse act you could press a button and wipe out 300 million people before sun down.” In turn, Goldwater defended himself by accusing Johnson of making the accusation indirectly, and contending that the media blew the issue out of proportion. While Johnson wished to de-escalate the Vietnam War, Goldwater was a supporter and even suggested the use of nuclear weapons if necessary. The attack ad was designed to capitalize on these comments. It was not the only ad developed at this time, though it is the best-remembered. One was called “Girl with Ice Cream Cone”, and it also talked about the risk of nuclear proliferation. Another was called “KKK for Goldwater”, and it portrayed Goldwater as being racist, by noting that Alabama KKK leader Robert Creel supported him, and “Confessions of a Republican” also noted the KKK ties. Another notable ad of the Johnson campaign, “Eastern Seaboard”, took aim at Goldwater’s statement: “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea.” Bob Mann, author of Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater and the Ad that Changed American Politics, wrote: “were it not for the “Daisy Girl” spot, “Eastern Seaboard” might today be considered the most effective presidential attack ad.”

Broadcast and Impact

“Daisy” aired only once, during a September 7, 1964, telecast of David and Bathsheba on The NBC Monday Movie. Johnson’s campaign was widely criticized for using the prospect of nuclear war, as well as for the implication that Goldwater would start one, to frighten voters. The ad was immediately pulled, but the point was made, appearing on the nightly news and on conversation programs in its entirety. Jack Valenti, who served as a special assistant to Johnson, later suggested that pulling the ad was a calculated move, arguing that “it showed a certain gallantry on the part of the Johnson campaign to withdraw the ad.” Johnson’s line “We must either love each other, or we must die” echoes W. H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939” in which line 88 reads, “We must love one another or die.” The words “children” and “the dark” also occur in Auden’s poem.

In 1984, Walter Mondale’s unsuccessful presidential campaign used ads with a similar theme to “Daisy”. Mondale’s advertisements cut between footage of children and footage of ballistic missiles and nuclear explosions, over the song, “Teach Your Children”, by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

In 1996, Bob Dole’s unsuccessful presidential campaign used a short clip of “Daisy” in its “The Threat” ad,

The ad was also re-made in 2010 by the American Values Network and was aimed at getting voters to ask their senators to ratify the New START program.

Johnson’s majority in the 1964 election was the largest since James Monroe’s, in the 1820 election.

Another child actress Birgitte Olsen mistakenly claimed she was the child actress in the commercial, and has maintained that position for years.

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