Thursday, March 13, 2014

Obama not the first to use comedy to promote his agenda

Millard Fillmore
There has been a lot of criticism on the right about Obama appearing with Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns in a comedy interview to promote Obamacare, even prompting Fox's Bill O'Reilly to say Abraham Lincoln wouldn't have done it.  Well, Bill, we think Lincoln would have done just about anything to save the Union, but Funny or Die wasn't around back then.

We had Buzz run some searches on the Univac 3000, and he found some interesting historical promotions by former Presidents.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford posed nude for a number of low circulation women's magazines in order to promote his WIN or Whip Inflation Now program.  His promotion included an eight page pictorial in the now defunct coupon magazine the Frugal Shopper.  Unfortunately, no copies of the November 15, 1975 edition of the magazine are still in existence.  Apparently, the late Katharine Hepburn purchased all the known remaining copies of the magazine in 1986, but it is not known whether she was a big fan of Jerry Ford or just a very frugal shopper.

Millard Fillmore, our 13th President, actually started a milk carton campaign, not dissimilar to the missing children campaign popularized in the 1980s.  Instead of children, Fillmore and members of his cabinet appeared on milk cartons, with the slogan "Have you seen this man?"  Fillmore discontinued the campaign when it turned out that Postmaster General Samuel D. Hubbard became the most popular milk carton, even surpassing Attorney General John J. Crittenden and himself.

Calvin Coolidge, a man generally regarded as our funniest American President, appeared in the early days of television on a variety show hosted by Henry Ford entitled Spot the Jew Among the Gentiles.  Ford realized the new medium of television would take off someday, but his antisemitic views greatly influenced his attempts at humor and programming.  Coolidge, not much of a campaign strategist didn't realize that there were fewer than 1000 television sets in the country, so his "Keep Cool with Coolidge" campaign failed in helping him secure a third term in the Oval Office.

Abraham Lincoln did in fact promote a "Save the Union" campaign in an early vaudeville act with then General Ulysses S. Grant.  Lincoln played straight man to the often hilarious and irreverent Grant.  The show had moderate success during some of the darker days of the Civil War, but the show fell apart after a performance in Nelson County, Kentucky, when Grant discovered the Jim Beam distillery.

And, finally, Thomas Jefferson, our third President appeared in public service pamphlets promoting abstinence with Sally Hemings.  The public service campaign was in response to a syphilis outbreak after Lewis and Clark returned from exploring the new lands of the Louisiana Purchase.  Jefferson was a widower at the time, so he posed for the pamphlet photo with one of his domestic servants.  The irony of choosing Hemings was that Jefferson fathered a number of children with Hemings.

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