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.
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.
The Denizens took their students to Springfield, Illinois earlier this month to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, as well as selected Lincoln historic sites.It gave us a great opportunity to examine the intersection of institutional politics and public communication in the historic work of perhaps the iconic American president. Among the episodes of Lincoln’s mythic history that are highlighted in Springfield is the rivalry between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, the “Little Giant” who bested the “Big Giant” in the 1858 US Senate race but lost to him in the 1860 presidential campaign. The seven 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates over “popular sovereignty” and the extension of slavery into US territories were an epic political circus at the time, launched Lincoln into the national spotlight, and became the historic archetype for debate as a component of campaign discourse.
Flash-forward fifty-three years, and we observe a pair of provocative phenomena: a candidate for president using debate challenges as a game of political chicken with opponents, and media pundits pondering whether a debate-driven campaign is actually valuable. What’s going on?
Clearly, a number of linked circumstances (public stumbles by Rick Perry and Herman Cain; perpetual lukewarm support of Mitt Romney; a media blitz last weekend) have led to former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s new frontrunner status in the GOP presidential primary race.
As evidence of the relationship between ephemeral audience preferences and media agenda-setting, my friend Eric Ostermeier, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, has released an illuminating content analysis of last night’s GOP debate. Frontrunners get more talk-time, potentially perpetuating their frontrunner status by framing them as such (unless they commit a serious gaffe, provide a generally unimpressive performance, or… what was that third thing?).
Smart Politics is a great nonpartisan site for research and analysis… it’s on our blogroll! You should read it.
Republican candidates debate national security issues at CNN debate in Washington, D.C. on November 22, 2011.
In CNN’s Republican debate on national security issues, there was a point where issues of immigration and education came into the discussion. The latest entrant to the frontrunner spot slightly ahead of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, said the U.S. should have a visa attached to every math and science degree to assure foreign graduates stay. While this is a nice sentiment, it brings up the question of how the Republicans as well as the rest of the political establishment in the United States really feels about education.
Last Saturday at a forum for Republican presidential candidates at a church in Des Moines, Iowa (one must hesitate before labeling this event a “debate,” as precious little competition of ideas actually took place), Newt Gingrich took on the progressive Occupy movement with some words that provided red meat to the cultural conservative GOP base. These words came a day after peaceful Occupy protestors at the University of California – Davis were subjected to point-blank pepper spray from police, a moment that quickly became a point of national controversy and a rapidly viral internet meme. Gingrich’s remarks illustrate both how he has filled (at least for now) the rhetorical leadership gap in the national Republican party, and why his candidacy is ultimately doomed.
Note: The views of the Political Denizens, their guest contributors and visitors do not reflect those of Augustana College. The Denizens are thankful to the College for providing them with resources and an outlet for their observations and commentary in the spirit of academic freedom and free public speech.