This week marks the 50th anniversary of the most famous campaign ad that aired as a commercial only one time: Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 “Daisy Girl” which appeared during a telecast of David and Bathsheba on NBC.
The ad, drawing upon (and inciting) fears of nuclear war and implying that Goldwater would start one, was criticized and immediately pulled. Yet the ad had already been captured and began appearing on news and talk shows in its entirety.
Dwarfed by the striking content of the ad itself, few people appreciated a piece of Johnson’s script. He spoke, “We must love each other, or we must die”– a statement that echoes line 83 of W.H. Auden’s poem titled “September 1, 1939.”
Auden’s poem was written about the outbreak of World War II, and itself echoed stanzas from W.B. Yeats’ “Easter, 1916” poem, which described his feelings surrounding the Easter Rising events staged in Ireland against British Rule. Yeats’ poem was written between May and September of 1916 but wasn’t published until 1921.
And who did Yeats echo in this work? William Blake, the English poet, painter and printmaker who published his first work of poetry in 1783. While not active in any political party, Blake’s writing communicates rebellion against the abuse of power, senseless war, and slavery. Blake’s head was cast in plaster in September 1823 and currently lives in the Fitzwilliam Museum. His works, however, were largely neglected for a generation after his death.
So what we have is an English poet inspiring another English poet, inspiring an English-turned-American poet, inspiring political consultants for Johnson’s political campaign, in turn inspiring pundits from coast to coast to create the modern era of the campaign ad. And in this season, we have no shortage of such examples to cite.