A group of environmentalists and liberals were fed up with Democratic President Jimmy Carter back in 1979 and formed a new political party leading up to the 1980 presidential election – The Citizen’s Party.
Stan Weiss, one of the operatives behind the creation of the party, wrote in a memoir that the party was deciding between Ralph Nader and Barry Commoner to put up for a presidential run. Commoner declined at first in order to persuade Nader, but once Nader backed out, Commoner stepped up to the plate.
The newly chosen candidate needed to get on the map to improve his name ID. Weiss believed that Commoner’s biggest threat was independent candidate John Anderson.
“We had no illusions that we could win the election in 1980,” Weiss explained in his memoir. “Our goal was to get at least 5 percent of the vote, which would qualify us for several millions of dollars in federal funds for the 1984 election. We would use it to build an enduring party: The Citizens Party.” To get some traction, Bill Zimmerman, Commoner’s campaign manager, came up with a political idea that would shock voters.
The ‘Bulls**t’ Heard ‘Round the World
The ad begins with some restaurant noise, the tinkle of a glass and then a man exclaims, “Bullshit!” “What?” a shocked woman responds. “Carter, Reagan, and Anderson: It’s all bullshit,” the man says. The restaurant noise fades away, and Barry Commoner comes on and says, “Too bad people have to use such strong language, but isn’t that how you feel too?” Then he goes on to make the case for the Citizens Party.
The campaign spent $700 to run the ad on CBS radio right before the national news on October 14. Unfortunately, when it came to Election Day, Commoner got 234,294 votes, 0.27% of the vote. John Anderson won 5,720,060, almost 7% of the total – enough to qualify for federal funds.