Barry Commoner and the Citizens' Party took the country by storm with this frank ad about the state of politics.
How one controversial word lead to the short-lived rise of a third party candidate in the 1980 election.
On a dreary March day in 44 BCE, a group of senators rushed the newly-elected dictator, Julius Caesar, and stabbed him 23 times. It was an action that was meant to save the Republic, but because the polis — the common folk — loved Caesar, the assassination led to a series of civil wars that cemented Rome's future as an Empire.
Goes to show how fragile representative democracy is...
Always one step away from dictatorship, and two away from collapse.
Perhaps that's why every election cycle is called, "the most important election of our lifetimes."
But let's get away from the weight of politics for a minute...
The world is a complicated and messy place. That was as true a statement in 1979 as it is today.
Jimmy Carter was up for re-election in just a year and a new face in town, the good ol' former actor. Ronald Reagan, was looking to take his mantle.
But there was something else simmering in the pot too...
Businessman, political advocate, and author, Stanley Weiss, was working in the shadows with four of his closest friends to put together a new platform, a new party — The Citizens' Party. Equal parts progressive and corporatist. An American dream.
They decided to run a man with a name that America's polis would instantly connect with too.
It's almost like a made for TV movie.
Who was this Commoner?
According from anecdotes from Weiss' book, Being Dead is Bad for Business, Commoner was a man of high ideals.
He wanted to run a platform based not on politics, not on image, but on the issues.
The problem was, just five weeks before Election Day the campaign had barely generated any press and had hardly got off the ground.
"It's all a bunch of bullshit!"
Most people can get behind that statement when it comes to politics.
Citizens' Party campaign manager, Bill Zimmerman, knew this. He put together a little ad where this was the main focus.
“Carter, Reagan, and Anderson: It’s all bullshit,” a man says to the shock of a woman nearby. The scene fades and Barry Commoner comes on front and center: “Too bad people have to use such strong language, but isn’t that how you feel too?”
Commoner hated the idea. It wasn't about the issues at all. But he was outnumbered and went along with it.
Viral ads in the pre-internet age.
The ad was a huge hit.
Within two days on running the spot, Commoner and the party received more media coverage than it had received in its history.
The stories weren't about the issues. They were about that damn word and its controversial usage on public TV and radio.
You can almost hear Commoner screaming: "Bullshit!"
Time went on and the joke became tired. They never were able to transition their five minutes of fame to a discussion of serious issues.
Still, it's a great lesson in what the people really want.