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Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds

LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics

216 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / 28 halftones

ebook available

Media Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807142936 / November 2011

Winner of the PROSE Award Honorable Mention


The grainy black-and-white television ad shows a young girl in a flower-filled meadow, holding a daisy and plucking its petals, which she counts one by one. As the camera slowly zooms in on her eye, a man’s solemn countdown replaces hers. At zero the little girl’s eye is engulfed by an atomic mushroom cloud. As the inferno roils in the background, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s voice intones, “These are the stakes—to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.”

In this thought-provoking and highly readable book, Robert Mann provides a concise, engaging study of the “Daisy Girl” ad, widely acknowledged as the most important and memorable political ad in American history. Commissioned by Johnson’s campaign and aired only once during Johnson’s 1964 presidential contest against Barry Goldwater, it remains an iconic piece of electoral propaganda, intertwining cold war fears of nuclear annihilation with the increasingly savvy world of media and advertising. Mann presents a nuanced view of how Johnson’s campaign successfully cast Barry Goldwater as a radical too dangerous to control the nation’s nuclear arsenal, a depiction that sparked immediate controversy across the United States. 
Repeatedly analyzed in countless books and articles, the spot purportedly destroyed Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Although that degree of impact on the Goldwater campaign is debatable, what is certain is that the ad ushered in a new era of political advertising using emotional appeals as a routine aspect of campaign strategy.

ROBERT MANN is the author of Working Congress: A Guide for Senators, Representatives, and Citizens; Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics; and many other books. He is also a political columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Praise for Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds

"Disguised as a slender monograph, Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds is actually a political thriller. Robert Mann, a journalism professor at Louisiana State University, worked in the mosh pit of Louisiana politics when it was firmly Democratic, and his expertise is evident as he dissects the watershed presidential election of 1964... Mr. Mann's book is as carefully conducted as a symphony."--Wall Street Journal

"Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds is a great read for anyone interested in what goes on behind the scenes in politics. Why do campaigns behave the way they do? How was campaign strategy implemented through advertising during the infancy of television? It’s a short (156 pages), rich look at a very important turning point in the history of American political campaigns: the birth of negative ads."--Charlie Cook, The National Journal

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