Forget LBJ's 'Daisy' Ad. Watch Goldwater's Campaign Film Choice

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I haven’t seen the new documentary MITT and I’m not sure I can bring myself to do so.

Living in the real-life aftermath of Romney’s failed presidential campaign is depressing enough without sitting through a cinematic autopsy, too.

Some say that if this documentary or something like it had been screened before election day, Romney’s chances would’ve improved.

Obviously we can’t know that for certain.

I feel more confident declaring that had an infamous but little seen Barry Goldwater campaign film called Choice aired in 1964, he still wouldn’t have won.

That’s because Goldwater had no chance of winning anyhow.

Americans weren’t going to dishonor their recently assassinated Democratic president by failing to vote for his successor. Period.

It didn’t help that the elites had successfully painted Goldwater as a racist, warmongering loony.

(Here’s an exhaustive history of the Democrats’ legendary “Daisy” commercial that made such a libelous liberal case against the Republican opponent — for one thing, it was Democrat JFK who brought America closest to nuclear war.)

That aside, the fact is:

Millions of Americans who educated themselves about Goldwater still found his real views too radical.

So had he allowed the wide release of Choice, the election would’ve turned out the same way.

The real question is:

If this long-form commercial had aired more than twice, how would it have colored public perceptions of the Republican Party into the future?

choice handbill

“The above flier was handed out by fun-loving Democrats during the brief period that Choice was being shown at Barry Goldwater’s San Francisco campaign office,” says the CONELRAD Adjacent blog.

I first learned about Choice while poking around for video to accompany my post on American Experience’s recent 1964 documentary.

Via, here are the basics, from the memoir Mostly on the Edge by Goldwater speechwriter Karl Hess:

[T]here was a briefing to review a television ad that supporters had put together to exploit the ever-present, always popular issue of moral decline in America. It was the sort of slimy self-righteous imagery that has come to dominate American politics today.

It showed topless (but appropriately censored) women at a public beach and had the stern voice-over, holier-than-thou condemnation of the country’s slide into moral decay.

Before a word could be said, the senator turned to my son — then sixteen years old — and asked his opinion. [Hess’s son,] Karl [Jr.] said the ad was silly, had nothing to do with the ideas of the campaign, and was dirty politics to boot. Goldwater agreed.

That was it; the ad was pulled, and the campaign stuck to the high ground of principles and substantive issues.

It didn’t help that:

Exotic dancer and actress Carol Harrison (aka Caroll Harrison, aka Exotica) added to the Choice hoopla by threatening to sue the Republican National Committee. She was angry that the Choice filmmakers used stock footage of her without her permission and without paying her.

Choice is like a mash up of Reefer Madness, If Footmen Tire You… (1971) and any number of those “moral hygiene” shorts from the 1950s, if they’d all been directed by Russ Meyer and featured a cameo by John Wayne.

(By the way: the speeding drunk driver is supposed to represent LBJ, not Teddy Kennedy — Chappaquiddick was still five years away.)

Choice squeezes something to offend everyone — left, right and middle of the road — into its 28 minutes.

Except for its “don’t blame the youth” undertones, the movie’s anti-vice religiosity and its reverence for the police really would have appealed more to Richard Nixon’s “law and order” constituency four years later than to Goldwater’s more libertarian one, or to any classical liberal undecideds.

Now that we all can, watch Choice then comment below:

How has America changed in the fifty years since this film came out — if at all?