Republican story from ’72

Take a look at the following video from CBS’ evening news from 1972. There should be a few interesting elements for any viewer, no matter their political leanings.

First, we notice that the topic of election strategy has always been good fodder for news reporters. Often, the horse race and how it’s run can be more compelling than the policies or platforms forwarded by the candidates.

Of course, there is also the gem of a Dan Rather piece from 1972. Rather’s thesis on the Republicans this time? That they’ve set up a front operation for show. The purpose? To demonstrate that Nixon isn’t running too hard for re-election. Possible, I suppose. After all, news media was hardly as ubiquitous in those days and perhaps such deliberate steps were taken to fool Rather. But, thankfully, he’s not fooled.

Next, at the RNC, envelope cutters are opening cheques from a quarter of a million people for $2.5 million. The ‘grassroots’ ma ‘n pa cheques that come in is a strategy employed by today’s Conservative Party in Canada. The direct mail lists and personal greetings customized by computer based on issue is interesting and it’s fascinating to know the sophistication of the operation involving these tools back to 1972. Some American politicians still bank heavily on direct mail appeals. Once, when describing blogging to a senior republican, I told him it was like the next version of direct mail. Thankfully, he didn’t press me further on the comparison, but I felt that the generational analogy was cogent enough, if on some levels not at all.

Next, in the report we see, by today’s standards, laughable privacy concerns which may well have enraged people watching Rather back in ’72. A ‘computer’ stores the names of mail-order Idaho steak customers? Most definitely a frightful thought to more than a few back in the early 70s.

Robert Odell Jr. is interviewed and describes these methods as the way of the future for campaign finance, and while we can forgive him for not foreseeing the netroots appeals of Howard Dean and those that would follow in the use of blogs and social media in this first decade of the 21st century, Odell could be a certified futurist.

We then see an obligatory note to show that the broad ma ‘n pa appeal isn’t exactly perfect yet as ‘fat cats’ still pay hundreds of dollars for Nixon fundraising dinners.

And then those that went home early will be sorely disappointed as we see a chance interview between Dan Rather and a 21-year old Karl Rove who holds up a bumper sticker for the GOP reading Generation of Peace. At the time of the interview, Rove was charged with “embarrassing pundits” and to help the Republican Party appeal to youth. It’s interesting to see how small a family of political operatives can exist, even in countries like the US.

All in all, a fascinating story about the ‘future’ of political financing from direct mail, to personalized letters aimed at specific constituents based on targeted issues. One wonders how the current cutting-edge methods of voter identification, fundraising and media balancing will be viewed 35 years from now.

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