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BLOG 3: Political Campaigns Since Nixon

This is the beginning of a whole new concept. This is it.  This is the way they’ll be elected forevermore.  The next guys up will have to be performers.


Since I was born in 1989, presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama are the most relevant to me.  These prophetic words by Roger Ailes, consultant to the Nixon campaign, are especially fitting for Ronald Reagan who was literally a performer.  Some used this to question Reagan’s qualification the office of President.  This skill set, however, certainly did not hurt his campaign.  You can see and hear how Reagan’s ability to perform were an asset to his campaign here.


A Natural Performer


Reagan may have fulfilled the performer role required of a campaigning politician, but Barack Obama is said to be the first celebrity President.  Celebrities are given their status through wide dissemination of information about their lives and their careers.  Presidents and politicians like Barack Obama no longer have the option of if they want the press involved in their campaign; they can only attempt to control how. A great example of political celebrity is Sarah Palin and her new show Sarah Palin’s Alaska:



The commentators in this video are very skeptical of the authenticity of this show and of Sarah Palin.  And Joe McGinnis, author of The Selling of the President and the inspiration for this blog post, has taken up residence next to the Palins!  This is an excellent example of the increasing tension between the press and politicians as well as their mutual parasitic relationship.  It also raises the question about what we might call a campaign.  Is the campaign cycle truly never-ending? Will we ever be able to say for sure that a politician is doing good for the sake of doing good, or will we forevermore suspect publicity stunts?


The objective of campaigns since 1968 until now have remained the same.  What has changed is how that objective (winning office) is attained.  Every campaign builds on the innovations and advancements of the previous campaign.


One of the most significant advancements in the campaign process since 1968 has been the speed and availability of information.  In this video, Pat Buchanan, aid to Richard Nixon, and others explain how technology including cell phones and the Internet have fundamentally changed the way that campaigns operate internally and externally with the press.


The Nixon Campaign did what it could to actually exclude the press from the campaign process.  Today, that is not an option.  American citizens demand transparency and immediacy from politicians and journalists.  Politicians don’t have  a choice about whether to interact with the press.  They must choose instead how they interact with the press.  Still, in the pursuit of objectivity and their watchdog responsibilities, journalists  publish information or opinions unfavorable to all candidates.  Candidates today consequently have less control over their own image and must work even harder to maintain not only the creation of their own messages, but to react to the impact of messages distributed in the increasingly vast network of information.


Finally, This article from The Pew Research Center explains how voters used media in the last Presidential election.  It forecasts that the Internet will continue to play an even bigger role in future elections as younger voters rise in the political process.

  1. March 2, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Yeah, it’s funny that McGinniss’ next book is about Palin. I meant to mention that in class. Packaging political candidates in the reality television age provides a whole new dimension to selling candidates. It will be interesting to see how candidates employ this type of television in the future.

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