Seeing Spots: A Functional Analysis of Presidential Television Advertisements, 1952-1996

By William L. Benoit | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
After Watergate: 1976, 1980

Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned during Nixon's second term, in October 1973, after pleading no contest to charges of tax evasion. President Nixon appointed Representative Gerald Ford in his stead. However, in the wake of Watergate, Nixon himself resigned in August of the following year, making Gerald Ford a president who had not been elected as either president or vice president. The Vietnam War was over by 1976, no longer an albatross around the neck of the incumbent party, but Ford's decision to pardon Nixon was widely unpopular. Robert Dole was selected as Ford's running mate. Jimmy Carter, governor of Georgia, was the Democratic nominee. Senator Walter Mondale was selected as Carter's vice-presidential candidate.

In 1976, President Ford attempted to campaign on his first-term record (as did Nixon in 1972), but unfortunately for Ford the economy wasn't doing very well. His spots, accordingly, sandbagged: "He came to the office of the President in troubled times" said one, and another made the excuse that "Two years ago we were mired in the worst economic crisis since the depression." The point here is not that these statements weren't true, but that they sounded defensive to voters. These excuses made it sound more like Ford was apologizing for his record rather than boasting of it. Here is one advertisement that emphasized his record:

He came to the office of the President in troubled times. He began an open administration. Now, quietly and firmly, he is leading us out of the worst recession in years. Rather than loose promises, he has made the hard decisions. Rather than frantic spending he has had the courage to say no. The worst is over. Over two million more Americans are working than at the bottom of the recession.

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