Happiness Is Something Called George

This is probably the best ad you will never see on TV: It opens with the face of George Bush silently mouthing a campaign speech. His expression is stern.

In the background, the song begins. It is by Bobby McFerrin and became the No. 1 song in America:

“Here’s a little song I wrote.

“You might want to sing it note for note.


“Don’t worry--be happy.”

The face of Bush disappears. It is replaced by a bag lady, bent almost double under the burden of the two shopping bags she drags along the ground.

“Every night we have some trouble.

“When you worry, you make it double.


“Don’t worry--be happy.”

The woman is replaced by shots of homeless men, a man sleeping on a city street, and then an almost surrealistic vignette of a tattered woman pushing a shopping cart. The cart is heaped with what we would call junk, but she would call all her earthly goods.

“Don’t worry, be happy, now.


Pictures of children in a food kitchen. Men, dressed against the cold, lined up on a city street at night and lit by harsh street lighting. Some carry bits of papers in their hand. Are they lined up for a job? Food? A place to sleep? We do not know.

“Don’t worry. Be happy.”

A graph comes on the screen, the same kind we see on the TV news. It shows the trade deficit, a red line rising higher and higher.

“Don’t worry--be happy.”


Well-dressed young men, stockbrokers, sit on the steps of some large building eating their lunch. They do not speak to one another. They look somber. One man is reading a copy of the New York Daily News. The huge headline reads: “PANIC.”

More pictures of stockbrokers, angry, afraid, depressed, rubbing their faces in weariness. Then another TV graphic. It is labeled “National Debt” and the red line rises past $3 trillion.

“Don’t worry.”

A silent farm. A red tractor stopped in the fields. A man flicks through a bunch of papers stamped: AUCTION.

“Be happy.”

The pictures come more quickly now. A farm couple, depression on their faces. More stockbrokers shouting frantically. And finally, a couple walking through a gritty empty lot, kids packed onto their backs, all dressed like European refugees in World War II. But we can see by the advertising posters behind them it is America today.

Now, a warm, slightly gravelly, down-to-earth voice begins to speak: “This election, the Republicans seem to be saying: ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’

“But as you can see, there’s an awful lot to be worried about.”


A smiling picture of Michael Dukakis in three-quarter profile fills the screen.

“Michael Dukakis for President,” the voice says. “Let’s take charge of America’s future.”

The commercial was made by Tom Amico, 28, and Jim Proimos, 30, a creative team at the Baltimore advertising firm of Smith, Burke & Azzam.

I asked them if there was any difference between making a political ad and an ordinary ad.

“It all starts with trying to come up with something fresh that hasn’t been said before. So we don’t make a distinction between political ads and other kinds of ads,” Proimos said, but then sensed what lurked behind my question. “Which is not to say we sell politicians like we sell detergent.”

But you do, don’t you? I asked.

“It is important for any ad to have some sort of substance,” Amico said. “Even if you are selling soap, people have to say: ‘Boy, that’s right! We should be buying that soap!’ ”

The two got the idea for their ad even before they found out that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was a favorite song of Bush’s. It is played at many of his campaign events. And, we are told, he plays it in his vice presidential limousine. Some find this strange, since to them the words are obviously sardonic:

“You need someplace to lay your head.

“Somebody came and took your bed.

“Don’t worry--be happy.

“The landlord says your rent is late.

“He may have to litigate.

“Don’t worry--be happy.”

Bush and some others, however, find no sarcasm in the song. They take it at face value. And Bush has adopted its message as the unofficial theme of his campaign.

But Amico and Proimos thought they could turn it around and make a strong statement with it. “We felt we could expose what a charlatan Bush is,” Proimos said. “He is talking about how everything is fine and how we have peace and prosperity. He is not talking about the stock market crash, the homeless, unemployment.”

Your ad is what the press calls “negative” and the politicians call “comparative.”

“We call it ‘good’,” Proimos said.

The two, who made the ad on their own, took it up to Boston and played it for John Sasso, deputy chairman of the Dukakis campaign. He said he liked it and would keep it around for possible use, but. . . .

But here is the problem:

Bush is doing as well as he is doing because a lot of people think things are just fine in America. And they don’t want to hear about doom and gloom, about the homeless or the hungry or anything else.

Which is probably why you will never see this ad.

Because too many people aren’t worried. They’re happy.