Under The Radar: Raphael Reviews "Daisy Petals And Mushroom Clouds"

Jul 27, 2012

WKAR's book reviewer Lev Raphael has a short political thriller this month. It's about an advertisement that possibly changed the course of history. He speaks with WKAR's Melissa Benmark.

LEV RAPHAEL: I’ve got a terrific political thriller, but it’s not what you expect. It’s a short book with a long title. It’s called "Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics" And it’s about the famous, or infamous 1964 ad in which a young girl is picking petals off a daisy and then there’s a mushroom cloud. It never mentioned Goldwater but everyone in America knew that’s who it was about.

MELISSA BENMARK: Okay, so, for people who might not be familiar with the ad or who have forgotten it since 1964, let’s take a listen to that right now.

(Advertisement Audio)

BENMARK: Okay, question number one: how do you write an entire book about a sixty-second advertisement?

RAPHAEL: Well, you go through the archives, you look at the documentation, and the book really is put together like a thriller. Whose idea was the ad? How did they come up with it? Was there controversy in launching the ad? What happened afterwards? It really is beautifully written, it’s a tense and exciting little book. And you know I like to counter-program in the summer, and instead of offering people 700-page beach reads, I’ve got 150 page beach read, or anywhere else. I could not put this down because it was so entertaining.

It looks at some questions that have almost become myths. Did this ad kill the Goldwater campaign? What was Goldwater actually saying back then? People remember the ad more than they remember anything else about the campaign. And in this season of negative ads and intense campaigning—here in Michigan, as a swing state, we are the target of probably more than many other states—this is must-reading for anyone who wants to understand how our political culture got to where it is today.

BENMARK: I do find it a little hard to imagine that a single ad could take down a campaign, because my understanding is that it only aired once?

RAPHAEL: Well, it only aired once, but it aired at a time when fifty million Americans could see it, Monday night during a movie broadcast, and it was played on television news programs the next day. So, that was the beginning of people realizing they could air a controversial ad and then say, “Oh, I’m sorry if it offended anyone,” take it off the air, and it has a life of its own. And now, with the Internet, any ad becomes eternal.