By: Emiliano Vazquez-Parrales, Section Editor for Student Voices (email@example.com)
As part of my Politics and Mass Media course I was required to read a book called The $elling of the President, by Joe McGinniss. It was shocking to say the least, and even horrifying at times, but I literally could not put this book down once I started reading it.
In 1968 McGinniss took a break from his job as a journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer in order to pursue an idea for a book that described the role of advertising in a Presidential election. He was originally turned away from Hubert Humphrey’s ad campaign, but was welcomed into the Nixon ad campaign by the creative director Harry Treleaven. He followed the Nixon team all across America documenting every step of how this group of ad-men, speechwriters, and cameramen helped market Richard Nixon to the people, by turning Nixon’s biggest weakness into his strength.
In the years prior to the 1968 election Nixon had suffered several setbacks which included losing his first attempt at the Presidency to John Kennedy in 1960. Nixon himself blamed his loss on his portrayal by the media, and hired a team of specialists to enhance his image and make him more appealing to the American people. In essence he wanted to sell the voters the image of the ideal President of the United States. He refused to put himself in situations that had stiffed him in the past like doing interviews or participating in debates. You could almost think of it as the Ocean’s Eleven of politics except the score was the highest office in the land, and Nixon only needed four guys to get him in: Harry Treleaven, the ad-man; Roger Ailes, the TV man; Frank Shakespeare, the man that crafted Nixons image; and of course Mr. Nixon himself.
The most shocking aspect of this book is when you realize that not much has really changed in the way presidential candidates present themselves to the American people since 1968. Back then the idea for selling Nixon was that issues bore the voters, and the only thing that really counts is what the voters see on television. No politician is exempt from this, including President Obama. During his first run for office and his re-election his people worked meticulously to present him as the first black President of the United States, never really focusing on his mother’s side of the family, which is Caucasian. This is not to say that our politicians are in any way bad people (well, some of them are), they just use the tools at their disposal to get the votes they need as fast and efficiently as possible.
The important take-away from this book is that the American voters need to take the time to look past the television screen and do some research on the candidate. Learn where he/she stands on all the issues, not just the hot button ones at the moment, and take a look at their political history to see which way they have leaned in the past. At the most it would take the average person maybe 20 minutes to find out most of that information these days. The most powerful position in the United States should not go to a product that we bought from the television like a Snuggie. It should go to someone who is truly representative of the values and beliefs of the majority of Americans today. For anyone interested in American political history, television history, or even just a good read, I highly recommend The $elling of the President by Joe McGinniss.