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Guest essay: GOP Politics and the “Little Woman” in 2012

2012 Republican National Convention: Day 2

The Political Denizens are pleased to present our first guest essay! In the wake of the 2012 party conventions, public discussions of the potential “candidates” for First Lady — Ann Romney and Michelle Obama — has featured their functions as a humanizing element for their husbands and their rhetorical emphasis on “family” as a warrant for their husbands’ values. But there is a strong and emerging scholarly literature on the political and rhetorical importance of first ladies that reveals additional insights on the potential importance of these women for presdients and the presidency.

Dr. Janis Edwards is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Alabama. Her research interests include visual displays and gender in political candidates and campaigns. Along with graduate students Brittany Finley, Kyle Fox, Megan Herboth, and Andrew Stone, Janis comments on the rhetorical presentation of Republican presidential candidate spouses and their potential political impact. These insights should come in handy as we observe, compare and contrast the performances of Mrs. Romney and Mrs. Obama in the weeks to come.

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A post-factual convention? Part 2: Reality? We can change it.

ryan we can change it

In a satirical debriefing of Paul Ryan’s nomination acceptance address on The Daily Show“RNC correspondent” John Oliver considers the theme of the Republican National Convention’s second night, “We Can Change It.” A slogan clearly designed as a commonplace strategic appeal in the “challenger style” of campaign rhetoric — the challenger calls for change, and argues that s/he is better than the incumbent to achieve change, Oliver takes it in a very different direction:

Oliver’s commentary not only echoes that of many media observers following Ryan’s address, but gets at a function of party convention narratives that has been a mainstay of the presidential campaign process — as least in the age of conventions as televised spectacles. An important question this year seems to be whether the GOP has risen to a new level of creativity with reality — a “post-factual” campaign, if you will, and whether the Democratic response is powerless to counteract it.  Let’s consider these points in Part 2 of the Denizen’s three-part series on the Republican National Convention, corresponding with the central theme of the convention’s second night.

 

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A post-factual convention? Part 1: They built that.

clint-eastwood-republican-convention-speech

 As has been the case for many years, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign produced a biographical film to introduce the candidate to the American public, who traditionally start paying attention in earnest to general election campaigns right around Labor Day. The video was a dramatically produced and emotionally moving portrait of a candidate who sought that night to present an image of himself as a warm, compassionate human being that has eluded him throughout his career in presidential campaigning. Inexplicably, the convention planners decided to present this potentially influential reframing of their candidate before the broadcast TV networks started their live coverage at 10 PM Eastern/9 Central Time. Instead, the “big night” led off with an ad-libbed piece of awkward performance art that has become a viral internet punchline and a big regret point for some Republican insiders. Clint Eastwood’s speech featured a cranky, snarky and rambling interview of an empty chair, representing President Barack Obama. Looking back on the fiasco, I’m starting to find the moment an oddly apt microcosm of the 2012 Republican National Convention as a whole: A potentially well-meaning but artificial diatribe against an opponent and actions that don’t actually exist. And this diatribe, while not a new phenomenon, is being executed in a way that may be a watershed moment for the mass-mediated propagation of untruth in American politics.

 

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Our long national nightmare is over…

Obama-Bored_large


We know what you’re thinking… “OK, the presidential campaign is in full swing, Paul Ryan is the Republican Veep nominee, the GOP convention has concluded and the Democratic convention is days away, the economic recovery is still slow and painful (with everyone blaming everybody else), the media fact-checkers and cable news commentators are having conniption fits… and we’re watching Clint Eastwood chastise an empty chair without a script, while you guys are nowhere to be found?”

Guilty as charged. We won’t try to put up a front — blogging can be hard when things get busy… and then the regret points start piling up (“oh, we missed this… oops, we missed that… how could we let that one get away?”). But we’ve missed the action as much as you have, so it’s time to jump back into the fray.

Labor Day traditionally is the time when political campaigns relaunch themselves, to reintroduce themselves to their fans and foes and to introduce themselves to a new set of audiences seeing them for the first time. Thus it shall be with the Political Denizens. If you are reading us for the first time, we welcome you to our citadel of Beyond the Beltway commentary from an interdisciplinary, liberal arts perspective. Please check out our intro page and find out more about us.

For our true believers, waiting anxiously for another taste, here it comes. Say tuned for a debriefing of the Republican National Convention, a guest article from Honorary Denizen Janis Edwards and her students from the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa on GOP spouses, and more. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well, where we’ll share some of our favorite online news and blog articles.

And……… RELAUNCH!

Pub Politics and the Presidency

Obama Guinness

According to the White House website, President Obama had “no public schedule” yesterday. However, this didn’t stop the President from making a high-profile St. Patrick’s Day visit to a public establishment — specifically, the Dubliner Restaurant and Pub, a bar in Washington featuring basketball on TV and Guinness on tap. Joined by his distant Irish cousin from Moneygall, Ireland (where Obama’s maternal great-great-great-grandfather called home), Obama enjoyed a pint and the well-wishes of the patrons.

Of course, this was no spontaneous drop-in — impossible when you have a Secret Service detail who must secure any visit location at least days in advance. And of course this was a calculated election year photo opportunity. What’s interesting about this particular event is that it is not the first “spontaneous” presidential beer run, press corps in tow… just ask the regulars of the Eire Pub in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, who enjoyed a presidential pint visit in 1983 by a pioneer of contemporary televisual politics.

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When “Deal” is a Four-Letter Word

Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney

One of the perennial realities of campaign politics is the inevitable trajectory candidates take when moving from obscure also-ran to emergent underdog to front-runner: the higher the profile, the greater the scrutiny, and the added importance of “oppo” research. Many media observers have noted, in the wake of Wednesday’s Republican presidential primary debate in Arizona, that Rick Santorum was besieged by his opponents with attacks based on his voting record in the US Senate.

The primary thrust of the charge: While campaigning as a principled, uncompromising champion of cultural conservatism, Santorum’s voting record reveals a pattern of votes on policy that contradict his avowed platform, sometimes in stark ways. This exchange from the debate provides a prime example:

In the immediate term, this problem requires Santorum to manage the apparent inconsistencies between his current rhetoric and his past record. More broadly, this is yet another example of the challenges faced by current and former members of Congress who run for the presidency — ironically, the more experience you have, the greater the paper trail from which opponents can cull decontextualized bits of business to form the basis of an attack. But for me, the most important consequence of this phenomenon is the continuing assault on collaborative negotiation and compromise that resides at the heart of deliberative democracy.

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Since When is Clint Eastwood a Democrat?

clint chrylser

And since when did Chrysler get in the candidate endorsement business?

Actually, neither supposition is accurate… making the brouhaha surrounding Clint Eastwood’s “Halftime in America” Super Bowl TV commercial for Chrysler yesterday that much more amusing. Ah, the fights we find ourselves getting into. This seems to be a classic case where politicized punditry and social media combine to crystallize speculative reactions and transform them into a news story. How does this kind of a heated public debate over a non-issue happen?

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Juice: Perceptions of Power between Presidents and Congress

obama_boehner

Time and time again, I speak to my students about the importance of the perception of power to the institution of the Presidency.  The Founders of the United States never intended for Presidents or the overall institution of the Presidency to have the power and influence that is seen in the modern presidency.  Presidents and leaders in Congress have to manipulate perceptions of power as they approach election season.  Sometimes when I engage in discussions on these issues I talk to students about “juice.”

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Change Is… Obama’s New Tactic

President Obama has begun using a variation on his "Change" slogan, "Change Is..."

President Obama has begun using a variation on his "Change" slogan, "Change Is..."

Recently President Obama has rolled out his new campaign tagline, “Change Is…”  Obama is making an attempt to answer questions from the opposite side of the political spectrum.  Many conservatives have been known to ask “Where is the Change?”  This is a trend that began very shortly after President Obama took office.  It will be very interesting to see how much traction the new “Change Is” approach will get and if it will catch on with supporters and later with the wider electorate.  An example of Obama’s new tactic comes across much more pro-active than previous mentions of his own record, “Change is the decision we made to rescue the auto company from collapse, even when some politicians were saying we should let Detroit go bankrupt.”  Instead of running from actions and decisions that seemed absolutely necessary when being undertaken, he is pointing out how bold they may be considered.

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Living With Legacies of the Civil War (Race & Inequality)

As was the case with many American wars, Blacks fought in the Civil War with hopes of equality afterward only to see the nation miss such an opportunity.

As was the case with many American wars, Blacks fought in the Civil War with hopes of equality afterward only to see the nation miss such an opportunity.

As I mentioned in a past post, there are currently missed opportunities to improve our nation. This is nothing new. When it comes to race, wealth and inequality in American politics and society; American history is littered with missed opportunities. The Civil War and it’s aftermath serve a one of many major moments of missed opportunity. After the war, which was fought in great part over the issue of slavery, reconstruction was prematurely halted and Blacks were given no opportunity to work on a level playing field when it came to working towards equality of opportunity in the political arena, economic arena and the social arena.

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