Opinion: ‘Confessions of a Republican’ and the Anatomy of a Fraud That Wasn’t

The 1964 campaign ad that went viral this week—and, unexpectedly, opened a Matrix door
YouTube screencap/LBJ Library

You might have seen some version of the video below sometime this week. The business news website Quartz published it Tuesday under the headline, “A ‘Republican Confession’ from 52 years ago has a lot to say about this year’s election.” It’s purportedly an ad from President Lyndon Johnson’s campaign against Republican Barry Goldwater. An excerpt that Quartz posted to Facebook had garnered 313,791 shares as of this morning. At first blush, it seems genuine. Then, as you keep watching, your bullshit detector kicks in, and you start looking for the telltale signs of fakery.

It punked me. Twice.

I ran across the excerpt Tuesday afternoon. As videos on social media go—especially for political junkies, especially now—it was share-perfect: two minutes long, with that all-important OMG factor, the kind of impulse that compels people to post clips of President Camacho from Idiocracy, but nerdier. (OMG, this clip from the past totally nails the present!)

I shared. A couple of Facebook friends commented. A guy I respect—someone who works in communications for a significant Charlotte institution, not one to sling dubiosity all over the web—weighed in: It’s a fake.

Damn it! I deleted the post from my timeline and, because I take this stuff way too seriously, posted a new status update: Don’t share that 1964 campaign ad that’s making the rounds. It’s a fugazi. (I’m paraphrasing because I’ve since deleted the status update, too. More on that a bit later.) I sat back, chagrined but satisfied that I, responsible citizen of Interwebistan, had corrected my grievous error and mitigated the effects of such chicanery on the body politic, by which I mean my friends on Facebook.

In truth, sprouts of suspicion had started growing even as I viewed it the first time. Wait a minute—isn’t this video quality a little too good? This guy, who’s unnamed—isn’t he a little too mannered and early ’60s-intellectual, like a caricature of a cardiganed Adlai Stevenson egghead? (He even lights up a cigarette mid-monologue, as if to hammer home what decade he occupies. A pipe would have been an even bigger tell.) Isn’t this awfully long for a TV ad? Most of all, isn’t the comparison to the present day just a little too snug of a fit?

The next morning, my friend Clay, a magazine editor, posted the same video to my timeline and asked, “Is this the one you were talking about?”

“Yep.”

“How did you discover its fraudulence? I mean, other than the fact that is gives us EXACTLY what we want to hear. Which, of course, almost always means it’s fake.”

Google time. Surely Snopes is on the case by now; nope. A few clicks led me to the full, four-minute, 20-second video … on the LBJ Library’s official YouTube channel.

Son of a bitch! (Or, as Johnson would have said, “Sumbitch.”) This thing is legit after all.

Snopes offered the full explanation later that day:

A 2010 blog post delved into the ad’s historical relevance (describing Goldwater’s campaign as “a naked appeal to Southern white racists to bolt the Democratic Party and support the Republican Party”).  The article was written as race and racism once again became enormous issues in American politics following the 2008 election of the United States’ first black president.

In November 2014, the actor from the 1964 commercial was interviewed about the “Confessions of a Republican” ad:

Mr. Bogert himself was a 28 year-old Republican just as fearful of the man his Party put forth to lead the nation as was his semi-fictional character. “No, I certainly did not vote for Barry Goldwater. I voted for Lyndon Johnson. Ask me how long it’s been since I voted for a Republican.” I did. It’s been a long time.

The interviewer noted that they had presumed that the actor in the Johnson campaign clip was a Democrat, but Bogert said that its producers required an actual Republican star in the spot:

But just as the agency behind this commercial (Doyle Dane Bernbach) made sure that all of the staff who made this campaign were ardent Democrats, I’d always presumed that the actor in the “Confessions of a Republican” commercial was also a Democrat. Why would a Republican actor sign on to do a commercial at the expense of his own Party?

“No, I’m a Republican. I just couldn’t stand Barry Goldwater. I was terrified of him … My father was disappointed that I did this commercial. He thought my performance was good, but he disagreed with the entire thesis.”

I learned that when Bill Bogert interviewed to get the gig, the first question that the ad agency asked the young actor was whether or not he was a Republican. It was a pre-requisite for the gig.

Not only was the “Confessions of a Republican” ad a legitimate archival clip from the 1964 campaign, but the actor depicted in it was himself a Republican, a casting prerequisite. The clip was likely scripted, but it was not a 2016 creation intended as a critique of the current political discourse.

It’s getting harder and harder to discern fact from fiction, genuine from counterfeit documentary evidence, and reality from a wagging of the dog—why the outlandish gets mainstreamed and simple truth contorts in some minds into an elaborate hoax. The Donald Trump campaign has had to pull away from the endorsement of a Florida pastor who loudly proclaims that the Newtown massacre in 2012 was staged. Many of us heard a genuine 52-year-old campaign ad whisper to our jumpy brains that it was a fraud. It all illustrates something disorienting and disturbing in our public life these days, more even than the content of the ad itself.

Categories: The Buzz