My dad was so passionate about politics that by the time I started school, I could recite every campaign slogan all the way back to Hoover. It was like growing up a Kennedy, except without the money or accent.
When Dad decided to run for alderman, in 1960, he had Mom take a picture of him pointing at a crack in the sidewalk and then sent copies of it to everyone in town with the slogan Hell fix the cracks.
The picture was a disaster. Dads suit was too small, and he looked weak, all bent over peering at the sidewalk. My dad was a much better man than what the people saw, but he lost the election anyway because of a snapshot moment. Now dont get me wrong; snapshot moments arent limited to just pictures. Oh no. They can be anything, good or bad, and when one happens, it seems like the whole world knows it.
Political campaigns are famous for their snapshot moments, and every election has at least one that will either propel the candidate to victory or drop him like a rock to defeat. This is especially true when it comes to presidential candidates.
In 1960, Richard Nixon appeared with John Kennedy on the first televised presidential debate. Nixon refused make-up, had the flu, was underweight, and wore a pale gray suit. Kennedy looked like Fabio compared to Nixon, and Kennedy won. Nixons snapshot moment was being mistaken by the audience for the Ebola virus.
Television helped Lyndon Johnson keep the presidency in 1964, when he ran the Daisy Girl ad portraying Barry Goldwater as a nuclear nutcase. In an attempt to avoid this snapshot moment, Goldwater countered that he only wanted to drop a few tactical nuclear bombs. Oddly enough, this intensified the publics fear to a state of panic, and Goldwater lost.
In 1968, Richard Nixon was given a second chance. This time he wore make-up and wisely refused to debate Hubert Humphrey. Most Americans got their first glimpse of Humphrey at the Chicago convention during the riots, making that his snapshot moment. Confused by what they saw, the public mistook the counterculture activist Abbie Hoffman of the Chicago Seven as the Democratic nominee and Nixon won.
Gerald Ford had a global snapshot moment during a debate with Jimmy Carter. Without first consulting Russia, Ford declared the country of Poland free. This was unbelievable news, especially to the people of Poland. Ford ended up losing to Carter even though Carter had a snapshot moment of his own when he confessed that he lusted in his heart.
Four years later, Carter confessed that his 12-year old daughter was advising him on nuclear proliferation. He promptly lost to Ronald Reagan, who did not have a 12-year-old daughter and was lust-free. Carters snapshot moment was his inability to quit confessing.
In 1984, Reagans snapshot moment came when he announced he would not make an issue or exploit for political purposes, his opponents youth and inexperience. After that, everyone began questioning whether the 56-year-old Walter Mondale was actually old enough to vote, and he quickly disappeared off the radar.
During the Bush 1 vs. Dukakis race, Dukakis stepped it up a notch by having two snapshot moments. When asked if he would change his stance on the death penalty for someone who murdered his wife, he paused and replied No. You could almost hear the air and his wife leave the room.
And then, Dukakis, a civil liberties champion, had his picture taken in an Army tank with his head poking out like a tortoise. Dukakis lost because Americans dont want a politician who looks like a turtle. They want one who wears make-up.
Bush 1 went on to lose to Bill Clinton when he was caught sneaking a peek at his watch during a debate. And Bob Dole lost to Clinton when he unceremoniously fell off a stage. Its hard to choose which snapshot moment was worse, the one that said You bore me or the one that said Hey, look at me, Im clumsy.
Bush 2 and Al Gore seemed to be competing for the most snapshot moments. Gore got lost in the woods, sighed like a whoopee cushion during debates, and carried an invisible lock box that only he could see.
Not to be outdone, Bush 2 frequently said, Thats just flat wrong even when inappropriate, knew what nuclear meant but couldnt pronounce it, and picked a running mate who was rich enough to buy Poland. It was no surprise the election ended in a tie.
And now with Bush 2 and John Kerry heading down the stretch, you just know theres a snapshot moment coming up with somebodys name on it, and I can hardly wait.