It’s enough to make you miss the “ Daisy” ad.
LBJ’s invocation of nuclear war if Barry Goldwater won the ‘64 election was substantive and civil compared to the worst of the campaign ads we’ve seen so far this season.
It’s not that our ads today are necessarily uglier or more mean-spirited than those in the past. But they are palpably weirder.
Click Image to Watch the Wildest Campaign Ads
The craziest campaign spots this year to date include a cranked-up interview with an Abe Lincoln impersonator who compares health care to slavery, and Terry Gilliam-inspired “Demon Sheep” that just might provoke acid flashbacks. There’s Muslim-baiting imagery borrowed from 24 and an absurd ‘80s nostalgia sing-along that would make the boys from Wham! blush.
Politics can be depended on to cut through the noise when it’s connected to pop culture, so we’ve got plenty of that couch-potato conversation represented. But the old standby of questioning someone’s religious convictions—with a bonus round for mocking evolution—is on our list, too, as is a conservative congressional candidate trying too hard to show that she can outgun just about anyone.
Of course, there’s a method to all this madness; it’s not just consultants trying to crack themselves up at a candidate’s expense. Far-out ads are a calculation employed by today’s Limbaugh Brigades—those candidates who buy into the shock jock’s belief that there is no such thing as too extreme.
And given that these commercials only cover primary season, most of them come from candidates trying to limbo lower to the base’s most base instincts. The only sin in these elections seems to be sanity or a demonstrated ability to win a general election.
So take a few minutes and get some relief from the August heat with laughter, courtesy of the Internet. For historical perspective, check out The Washington Post’s links to the worst attack ads of all time—and remember that we still have the anonymous attack ads that come with the fall’s general election ahead of us.
John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and a CNN contributor. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.