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.
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.
So what do we make of last night’s primaries in Michigan and Arizona? As in most things political, the “win” is in the eye of the beholder… and what we’re beholding is media framing and campaign spinning. As I was reading news about the races this morning, a Facebook post from my old fraternity brother Jeff Moulton caught my eye. He posted,
The game of political “spin” is an interesting spectator sport. For example, right now on my Yahoo news feed is the following headline – “Battered and bruised, Romney is limping toward the nomination”. Fair enough. The very next article has this for a title – “Romney roars back with two big wins.”
Hmmm… those are two rather different narratives — and it’s likely that each of the candidates, especially Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, have one that they prefer.
Here’s one that isn’t being widely reported this morning, but I think is worth considering: Last night’s big winner was President Barack Obama. Why? Let’s check out the numbers and the spin to see why.
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?
By now, Mitt Romney’s latest interview gaffe, in which an offhand remark (well, not so offhand, see below) reveals a potential lack of empathy with regard to impoverished Americans and public policy on poverty, has captured this week’s media cycle and crackled across the blogosphere. While you may well be familiar with this story, check out what is said, and how it is said, again — because there seems to be something a bit deeper here in Romney’s language that the media coverage of this episode seems to underplay.
In particular, for me the key is in the phrasing right before and after the now infamous soundbite.
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.”
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?
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.
Ever the intrepid defender of accuracy over b.s., the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s Factcheck.org released an analysis of the DNC ad that identifies a host of distortions of Romney’s public statements and positions. What did they come up with?
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.