It’s no secret that politics can be a really ugly business. Sometimes there seems to be no limit to how far - or how low - a candidate will go to smear their opponent. Slandering a person with accusations, regardless of how truthful they are, is nothing new. Some of the world’s most respected leaders have resorted to malicious tactics to crush their rivals during elections.
If a single person isn’t under attack, sometimes it’s a whole group of people. Throughout history, political campaigns have run the gamut, using everything from bigotry to misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia to win votes. Sadly, not much has changed - even in recent years. Blaming immigrants for everything that is wrong in society is an all too common tactic. Portraying black people as dangerous criminals is an equally popular strategy. Attempting to instill a fear of gay people, along with same-sex marriage, is an age-old ploy. Many politicians have no qualms doing whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it means dragging an entire race, gender or ethnicity through the mud.
Here are 10 of the most offensive political campaign ads that ever aired. Some are so downright dirty and tasteless, it’s hard to believe they actually ran.
10 "Granny Off the Cliff”
This jaw-dropping ad, created by The Agenda Project, was a visual attack on Paul Ryan’s proposition to privatize medicare in the U.S. Set to the tune of “America the Beautiful,” a man in a suit (presumably Ryan) is shown pushing an elderly person in a wheelchair through a forest. When he reaches the end of the path, he shoves the terrified woman out of the wheelchair and throws her off a cliff. The ad culminates with this message: "Is America beautiful without Medicare? Ask Paul Ryan and his friends in Congress." The ad was so controversial, some stations refused to air it, including WMTV, which serves Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.
9 “Give Us Your Cash, B*tch” - Racism At Its Worst
As if the title doesn’t speak for itself, the stereotypes depicted in this ad are so vulgar, it’s hard to believe it actually aired…and in 2010, no less. Although the ad’s prime target is Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who Right Turn USA criticizes for supporting an anti-violence initiative that provided employment to former gang members, it’s sure to offend plenty of people. In the ad, a white stripper dances on a pole surrounded by two African-American men wielding assault rifles and demanding cash to “shoot up the street." It’s as unapologetically sexist as it is racist. Sprinkled in are some random Communist symbols like the Cuban flag and a photo of Che Guevara, making it a top contender for the most tasteless political ad of all-time.
8 “Dating Profile” - Obama The Stalker?
Hands down, this misogynistic gem is one of the worst Republican campaign ads ever made. The 60-second spot, created by Americans for Shared Prosperity, features a woman comparing Barack Obama to a bad online date. She says she fell in love with his charming profile, but soon realized he was full of false promises. The ad takes a more disturbing tone when she says she no longer feels safe. Likening Obama to a stalker, she accuses him of reading her emails and text messages. The ad’s tone hit a little too close to home with real victims of domestic violence. Critics blasted the ad for bearing an eerie resemblance to the #WhyIStayed movement, in which actual victims explain why they stood by their abusive partners.
7 Rick Perry’s “Strong" - War On Religion
One of the most controversial moments of Rick Perry’s first political campaign was his “Strong” ad, in which he dons a Carhartt jacket and declares that he’s proud to be a Christian. He goes on to insinuate that openly celebrating Christmas has been outlawed and he accuses Barack Obama of launching a “war on religion.” The ad, which aired in Iowa in 2011, quickly went viral. To date, it has over 9 million views on YouTube. Even Perry seems to think the message was a bit out of line. Although he doesn’t disown the ad, he’d like people to have a fresh impression of him in this current campaign.
6 Latinos Want The “Welcome Prize”
5 “I’m Confused” - Same-Sex Marriage Scare Tactic
This ad features sad-looking children expressing their confusion over same-sex marriage. It surfaced around the same time a marriage equality bill was proposed in New Hampshire. The National Organization for Marriage, the institution behind this homophobic scare tactic, did nothing to mask a blatant religious agenda. One child in the commercial says that “he” (presumably God) should have created Adam and Eve, while a voice-over at the end explicitly states that marriage is between a man and a woman. The ad also poses the seemingly terrifying threat: “If we change the definition of marriage, our kids will be taught a new way of thinking.” As if open-minded, progressive thinking is such a bad thing.
4 Anti-Abortion Ad - Pro-Choice Is A Lie
Vowing to criminalize abortion, presidential candidate Howard Phillips ran this disturbing ad in 1992. It begins with a sequence of smiling, active babies, followed by three graphic images of aborted fetuses. The voice-over at the end says viewers shouldn’t stand for abortion if they can’t stand to look at its results. Phillips’ extreme tactics aren’t all that surprising, considering he was once a Republican who decided to form his own party because he felt the GOP wasn’t conservative enough. Although he ran for president three times (1992, 1996, and 2000), he didn't win an election or any popularity contests for that matter.
3 “Daisy Girl” - Vote Or Die
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson ran several disturbing commercials in an attempt to paint his rival Barry Goldwater as an extremist. This highly controversial ad, known as “Daisy Girl” juxtaposes a scene of a young girl plucking daisy petals while counting to 10, followed by an image of a massive nuclear explosion. At the end, a voice insinuates that viewers should vote for Johnson if they want to save their lives. This portrayal of Goldwater as a reckless, nuclear-happy madman was outrageous. However, Johnson was determined to refute Goldwater’s right-wing platform by any means necessary. He was elected President by a landslide victory that year.
2 “Willie Horton Rapes Woman” - Bush Blames Dukakis
This ad is the doozy of a political smear campaign. In 1986, Willie Horton was serving a life sentence for murder, but was released temporarily on a weekend furlough pass. While he was on leave, Horton fled and kidnapped a couple. He raped the woman and stabbed her fiancé. Knowing that his opponent Michael Dukakis had supported the weekend furlough program, George H. W. Bush used it to his full advantage. In this ad, he slams Dukakis for his lenient stance on crime. Bush even goes so far as to suggest that Dukakis is somehow accountable for Willie Horton’s gruesome attack on the innocent couple.
1 Tim James’ English-Only Driver’s License Exams
In this overly dramatic ad, Tim James vows to do away with multilingual driver’s tests if he’s elected Governor of Alabama. Hey, at least James knows that English, rather than American, is the official language of his home state. ahem, Sarah Palin. Maybe it’s the businessman in him (hmm, it sounds more like the bigot) that thinks printing driver's tests in one language, rather than 12, will save the state loads of money. Surely James has no other hidden agenda; he just throws in a jab at immigrants for good measure: “This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.”