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The Selling of the President: The Classical Account of the Packaging of a Candidate Paperback – August 2, 1988
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The book became such a classic that it remains assigned reading in many government classes to this day. But it is no longer shocking. Today, the practices described actually seem backward. Rather than a jarring warning about how campaigns are trading issue discussions for staged events, it today might be read as an out-of-date how to book. The discerning reader should not make this mistake. Instead, try to feel the original sentiment, the innocent expectations the book assumes of the reader.
There are two interesting aspects of this book that are ancillary to the main point. The one is the appearance of political figures, like Pat Buchanan and Roger Ailes, who would go on to other things and remain well known today. The most interesting such example is none other than George Bush (the dad), who is profiled as a mere Congressional candidate, epitomizing the "modern" type of candidate who is "an extremely likable person" but is hazy on the issues. Bush's successful campaign featured "no issues" not even when his opponent asked Bush "if he would favor negotiations...to end the Vietnamese war" (see pages 44-45). The point was that Bush, who wasn't especially well-known, was a vapid product rather than a substantive candidate (some things change, some stay the same).
The other interesting thing is what happened to McGinniss.Read more ›
Chapter 1 shows Nixon taping commercials for varied markets. "I pledge an all-out war against organized crime in this country." But investigations into organized crime was later halted. Chapter 2 tells us that politics, like advertising, is a con game! Both promise more than they deliver. McGinniss says Nixon lost in 1960 because the camera portrayed him clearly (p.32). I think the TV audience judge he was lying, the radio audience took him at his word. By 1968 Nixon learned how to act sincere. He would appear mellow, not intense; respected, if not loved (p.34). Page 36 explains how this works: saturated TV advertising showing the candidate and giving the desired impression, followed by public appearances where he doesn't say anything. TV would be controlled to transmit the best images (p.38). Chapter 3 tells about Harry Treleaven, who worked on the 1966 campaign for George Bush; he was elected because he was likeable, and none knew his stand on the issues. More people vote for emotional than logical reasons (p.45). Chapter 4 explains the power of TV. "The press doesn't matter anymore: (p.59). Painting Nixon as mellow was their way to overcome the old Nixon. Chapter 5 tells how the TV shows were staged for each region. Page 64 explains the politics for a panel of questioners. The selected audience applauded every answer.Read more ›
That said, "The Selling of the President" remains the definitive case study of the first sophisticated use of television in American Presidential Politics. Having worked in political public relations for three years, the characterizations and quotes ring completely true. While the public was dismayed by the widening morass in Vietnam, there's no denying the fact that Nixon's very astute use of the tube helped catapult him into the office he ultimately disgraced.
Yes, mass media image-building is now the politician's stock in trade: Willy talking boxers versus briefs, the Veep doing the Macarena, and George The Elder fumbling at the checkout counter.
"The Selling of the President 1968" is written in tough, punchy prose, and chillingly accurate. I'm certain The Founding Fathers would flinch.
Highly recommended as a continuing reality check.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There is an internet meme: A quote from somebody recently that smartphones have killed conversation. Then a quote from 30 years ago that television has killed conversation. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Roger Sweeny
I got the book as I wanted to know more about then then young TV Nixon producer Robert Ailes, maybe you have heard of him if you tune into FOX TV? Greg R. StonerPublished 21 months ago by Greg R Stoner
Rereading this book after many years, I found that it was still a good read. The information about how political marketing is done is more relevant than ever. I appreciate Mr. Read morePublished 22 months ago by R. Barrell
A fantastic look into the marketing art of a presidential campaign. How Nixon's team of Los Angeles and New York Mad Men pushed the frontier of selling not a presidential platform... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Jacob Motz
This book does a great job of relating how Nixon's campaign staff went about the process of selling a flawed candidate like a bar of soap, or cigarettes. Read morePublished on September 21, 2012 by Dr. Redhawk
This isn't really a book so much as a series of long essays. I'd heard that this is a classic expose, and in many ways it is. Read morePublished on November 22, 2011 by J. Smallridge
An excellent insight on the Nixon's Campaign for 1968, but it also adds you some more info on the other important events around the campaign, It got me a solid A+ on my History of... Read morePublished on June 20, 2011 by Sawie
My interest in this particular book began with the press on the anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy. Although I heard about this book, I never read it. Until now. Read morePublished on July 18, 2008 by W. Hronis