Stevenson, a congressman from Illinois, was the Democratic candidate for president; and Dwight Eisenhower, the commanding general of the victorious forces in Europe during World War II, was the Republican candidate.
My teacher didn’t pick me to head the Stevenson campaign because I was a Democrat. It was just luck of the draw.
Politics weren’t discussed much at home. My mother was too busy trying to raise two young rambunctious boys, while our father was working in a steel mill in Concepcion, Chile.
I knew about Stevenson, but I had heard more about Eisenhower. “I Like Ike” was a popular slogan — even in a third-grade classroom.
Needless to say, my guy lost the election badly — nationwide and in the classroom. Eisenhower captured more than 80 percent of the popular vote. I think he just got a couple of votes at school.
What I do remember is that Eisenhower promised to stop the war in Korea, and to create more jobs.
Americans were becoming weary of the stalemate in the war between South Korea and North Korea. That war began just a few years after the conclusion of our victory in World War II. They also felt the Harry Truman administration hadn’t done enough to spur the economy.
Eisenhower and Stevenson stuck to the issues and didn’t attack each other with harsh words.
I was living in Michigan when the next major presidential battle began in 1960 — when Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon sought to replace Eisenhower. This election marked the first debates ever to be televised.
Even though my parents were Nixon supporters, I was pulling for Kennedy to win the election.
Neither Kennedy nor Nixon launched full-scale attack ads against each other. What many people remember about that election is Nixon’s appearance during the first debate. He looked pale and uncomfortable, while Kennedy looked more comfortable and energetic. Kennedy, of course, narrowly defeated Nixon in the election.
But in 1964, the use of negative political advertising became more common, as Lyndon B. Johnson successfully painted Barry Goldwater as a right-wing and pro-war candidate.
Political attack ads were also used effectively by Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Bill Clinton used a different tactic, using daytime TV shows and other popular culture outlets to get his message across.
While I dislike political attack ads, they seem to be effective. The use of Super PACs — which allows committees to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals to be used to advocate for or against political candidates — has been especially effective in the race to see which candidate wins the Republican nomination. Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are spending millions on attack ads.
But it is not just the Republicans who rely on attack ads. The Democrats are pulling in millions of dollars to be used against whoever opposes President Barack Obama in the November election.
I personally would like the candidates to spend more time dialing in on the issues that are important to Americans.
While there are signs that the economy is improving, there are millions of people still looking for work. People are still losing their homes.
I want the candidates to tell me what they will do to make America better. They should offer specific ideas so that voters can decide for themselves who is better to lead our nation.
The candidates should take a lesson from Dwight Eisenhower and promise people things that they can deliver. America would then be better off.