Posts Tagged ‘The Selling of the President’

BLOG 12: Class Review

May 2, 2011 1 comment

This was one of the most interesting classes I have taken in my college career. As an English major, I usually find myself studying informative but antiquated literature that rarely directly relates to the current age. This class, however, was incredibly up-to-date, and I felt it truly expanded my worldview. I now feel much more politically informed than before.

I felt that the textbook we had for the class was very interesting to read, and it ended up being worth every penny of its steep price. It was interesting having different writers for each chapter so that no two readings were alike. I found Chapter 23 on the Al Jazeera effect particularly interesting.

I also appreciated the use of digital media in the class. The videos that we were both shown and required to watch were very informative, and the comedic clips we viewed on occasion were refreshing within the context of all my classes. The use of Twitter alongside our blogs was mentioned in the syllabus, and I wish we had learned to utilize it a bit more. I know absolutely nothing about the site and feel that, with a bit of guidance, it could have been used to further my experiences in the class.

As mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed the primary textbook. I also felt that The Selling of the President managed to be both informative and entertaining, and I liked how class discussion drew parallels between the 1960 and 2008 elections. 2.0 had some of the most intriguing concepts we studied in the course, but it seemed like we could have read the introduction and maybe a few other specific chapters and still have gotten its message. I felt the text as a whole was the weakest part of the course, that a strong message was lost amongst its very dry and very redundant pages, and that we could have covered its information within one thorough reading.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this class and am truly happy that it has made me more politically aware, as I had hoped it would.


Blog #12: Interesting/Boring Class Discussions

This class has certainly been one that has taught me a lot. Heck, not only that but it has also made me aware of influences on my everyday life.

For starters I enjoyed the discussions concerning the way social networking affects our lives in ways of getting political news. A perfect example of this discussion becoming a reality took place last evening when I was checking my Twitter before beginning some homework. While, I was scrolling through the posts I stumbled across one stating that President Obama was to give a speech on an undisclosed topic. From here I quickly turned on the news and watched until reporters were able to confirm that the United States had the body of Osama Bin Laden. From there I continued to watch until President Obama came on to speak. Without the use of this social network, I would have never known what was going on. I related all of this information back to our political information sources discussions; it was very neat.

From here I was able to connect my life to another one of our interesting discussions.  This one was concerning the concept that Presidency had to do with strategy and image. After watching the speech given by Barack Obama concerning Bin Laden’s death I was able to explain the aspects of this interesting in class discussion to my roommates. I told them that this was going to be good for Obama’s approval ratings and re-election, just as 9/11 was a positive thing for former President Bush’s campaign. The connect I was able to make made this class not only more relevant to my everyday life but made me appreciate the discussions that I previously found enjoyable.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the book “The Selling of the President” and our discussions following that. Not only were they extremely interesting but also applicable to politics today. It opened my eyes about what exactly was going on.

While I found almost every aspect of this class to be interesting and worth my while I would not rate the discussions concerning Media Objectivity as one of my favorite. However, it was still some what interesting to hear other people’s perspectives on the matter.

All in all, this class included many topics and discussions that I found to be worth my while, not only as something that was enjoyable but something that I was able to relate to my life as well.

BLOG 10: 2.0

April 13, 2011 1 comment 2.0 presents too much information for me to handle.  One chapter of this book is probably enough to occupy my mind for a while.  But I think I understand the main idea.  When I started reading this book, the first connection I made was to the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.  I haven’t actually read Putnam’s book, but have heard summaries in various classes.  Both support the idea that people are becoming increasingly isolated and this is a threat to democracy.  Cass Sunstein’s 2.0 focuses more on how an ideal citizen should participate in democracy through media while Putnam’s book emphasizes the value of face-to-face interactions.  Both of these converge on the idea of deliberative democracy, which was probably my favorite discussion of Sunstein’s book.  He reminds us that our system of government is slow for a reason-true democracy in which everyone has an equal vote would not only be impossible for a country like the United States, it would be chaos.  An effective government cannot bend to popular passions.  I think much of the frustration and anger people feel toward the government comes from expecting the government to respond more quickly to local or even individual demands.

Two other books that came to mind when reading Sunstein’s were Generation Me, which was the book selected for Mizzou’s summer reading program and Generation We, a book that I found online.  As you can guess from the titles, these books make opposite claims.  The former, by Jean M. Twenge, claims that today’s young Americans are more self-interested than previous generations.  Eric Greenberg, author of Generation We, in contrast proclaims:

Generation We – the Millenials – has arrived.  They have emerged as a powerful political and social force.  Their huge numbers and progressive attitudes are already changing America.  And the World.

Greenberg is much more optimistic about the current state of citizen participation than either Sunstein or Twenge.  In Greenberg’s words above is a claim that the rising generation of citizens and politicians are active.  This is important to Sunstein as well, who quotes Brandeis:

…the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people…

The idea of citizen movement and the distinction that Sunstein attempts to make between citizens and consumers is probably my least favorite part of the book.  Sunstein tries to separate citizenship from consumerism, but I don’t think this is possible.  Humans react to incentives and we are too enmeshed in consumerism as a culture.  We need only to look to the book The Selling of the President to be reminded of how American politics have developed in such a way to essentially buy votes.  The last presidential campaign was an incredible effort the appealed to the consumer in citizens by providing a packaged brand.  I’m sure no other president has had so many t-shirts or posters printed with his face.



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All this being said, I do think that Sunstein’s push for people to consume media from sources that they wouldn’t ordinarily is a great suggestion.  Before this semester I didn’t have a Twitter account because I didn’t understand the benefit.  Now, I log on every day to catch up with news from multiple sources and end up following links to stories that I wouldn’t normally seek or want to read.  I believe this helps broaden my horizons, as the cliche goes, and genuinely better equips me to actively participate in deliberative democracy.

Blog 3: Political Campaigns since Nixon

February 21, 2011 1 comment

Youtube. Internet Articles. Twitter. Facebook Advertisements.

None of these words made since to the American public in 1968 when Richard Nixon and Herbert Humphrey were vying for the Office of President.  Flash forward to the 2008 election between Barack Obama and John McCain where these words were not only second nature for most voters but were methods that each candidate and the media used almost every day throughout the campaign.

While these methods used today were not even in existence in 1968, the television was. According to Joe McGinniss, “The content of the programs made little difference. Except for startling lapses, content seldom does. What mattered was the image the viewers received, though few observers at the time caught the point.”  During this time image is what sold and television is what sold it. The book written by McGinnis, The Selling of the President: The Classic Account of the Packaging of a Candidate, discussed the importance of television in the 1968 election. It gave voters easy accessibility to the candidates. Raymond Price, Nixon’s campaign speech writer wrote, “Voters are basically lazy, uninterested in making an effort to understand what we’re talking about.” This quote couldn’t be more true.

Here are some examples of campaign advertisements on tv for the 1968 election. Now fast forward. Since these black and white ads campaign teams have made it even easier for “lazy voters”, as Price called them, to access the image they are trying to get across of their candidate. Today’s version of the television is the Internet; and it has completely changed election campaigns with the use of online articles, Twitter, and Facebook to name a few.

Back in 1968 Nixon had a hard time making the decision to use television to revamp his image. According to McGinniss, he thought of using it as playing a game, an eastern liberal trick, and a gimmick. I would be curious to hear his thoughts on campaigning today. With the vast usage of numerous media forms today from phone applications, online articles, television, and print media voters have become consumed with the portrayed image of the candidate.

So what has changed since 1968? Nothing. While the media is more easily accessible to voters, the game is the same. Just as in 1968, today we are still obsessing over the image; the image created by campaign teams and the image controlled through these media forms. Think about it.

BLOG 3: Political Campaigns since Nixon

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

“We’re going to carry New York State, for instance, despite the Times and Post…TV is carrying our campaign.  And Nixon loves it.  He’s overjoyed he no longer has to depend on the press.”
-Frank Shakespeare

Since Nixon ran for president in 1960 and 1968, presidential campaigns have evolved and come ingrained in nearly ever medium to reach the target audience – the voters.  After his disastrous media campaign in the 1960 election, Nixon needed to revamp and finally take advantage of the television medium.  I agree with McGinnis that television is dependent on a candidate’s personality, not for the candidates ideas: “His personality is what viewers want to share” (29).

Style is crucial for a campaign to work.  Candidates cannot be too serious, but, instead must appeal to the people in dress, voice tonality and talking points.  The American public was scared of Nixon; conversely, a candidate today needs to be conversational and comforting, much like Barack Obama.

Presidential candidates cannot hide from the press or rely on controlled events.  With cable networks, morning shows and press conferences, candidates must answer questions blindly.  Each network has their own agenda and interests, and candidates must be ready to answer.  They can’t formulate their own audience, like Nixon’s staff did in 1968.  One panel member represented a demographic group in each of Nixon’s controlled conferences, but our culture is more crosscut. Candidates must speak across different lines to diverse groups of people – and be prepared for the press to challenge them.

While the power of columnists has decreased since the 1960s, print and Internet press are vital to a campaign’s success. More candidates appear on the cover of magazines with soft, personal based articles to appeal to the voters.  The press cannot be ignored, with   44,000 newspaper journalist alone.  Nixon felt like he didn’t have to depend on the press with his controlled events, but the press is crucial to success – letting people into the candidates lives and personal history.  Obama’s wife and children were crucial to his campaign success.

They let us inside of their lives, to help voters see they are just a “normal” family.  George W. Bush’s twins, Jenna and Barbra, and his wives were featured in the 2000 and 2004 campaign trail.  Viewers want to vote for someone they can “sit down and have a beer with” and engaging into that personal world is crucial to building this relationship.

With so many journalists today, families cannot be ignored in the campaign process.If politicians won’t invite us in, the press (or Saturday  Night Live) find a way to invade their lives.  Chelsea Clinton’s education became a news topic, as well as her looks and eventual growth spurt.  Regardless of what issue it is, the American people want to know about a candidate’s personal life.   Look at what Sarah Palin’s family did in the 2008 election; the Palins became a news frenzy.

In Nixon’s 1968, it was difficult for his advertising team to find credible and nationally famous celebrities for support.   Art Linkletter,  Bud Wilkerson, Connie Francis, Pat Boone, John Wayne, and Lawrence Welk were among Nixon’s celebrity supporters.  Unfortunately, many celebrities, like Welk, didn’t want their name used in the campaign.  Humphrey had a substantial backing from the infamous Paul Newman, but nothing compared to today.  Contrast that to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign – celebrities from A-List to D-List jumped on the bandwagon in support of Obama.

Today’s culture glorifies celebrities.  McGinnis describes the “television celebrity” of the 60s, but I think this quote is more applicable to the celebrities of today:

“The television celebrity is a vessel.  An inoffensive container in which someone else’s knowledge, insight, compassion, or wit can be presented.  And we respond like the child on Christmas morning who ignores the gift to play with wrapping paper.” (29)

What I did find innovative about the 1968 campaign was its targeted commercials.  NIxon’s advertisements targeted different issues in the political spectrum, with the candidate narrating to pictures panning on the screen.  One commercial was particularly well targeted to the youth demographic – an age group that became a significant target in the 2004 “Rock the Vote” campaign, as well as Obama’s campaign in 2008.  With the baby boomers coming of voting age in 1968, Nixon’s knew this target would be vital for a win.

Obama’s campaign was no exception; he spoke in a casual, conversational  tone that was relatable to young voters.  He had Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, running his online campaign to target millennials.  This youth booth had been falling through the 80s and early 90s, but the 2004 and 2008 campaigns showed substantial growth with increased youth advertising.  Thanks to Hughes and the Obama “millennial campaign,” the 2008 vote increased to 51.1% in 2008, while older adults voted at lower rates.

When told Yes We Can, their response is Of Course We Can. When asked to help create change, they set about on their projects on behalf of the campaign. Obama reinforced that message throughout the campaign by reiterating that it wasn’t about him, it was about them.  – Obama’s Millenial Marketers

Presidential campaigns have evolved since the 1960s and perhaps, we’ll see a further evolution in the coming years.  With a changing media culture, we cannot predict the future, but change will indeed come!

BLOG 3: Political Campaigns since Nixon

February 21, 2011 1 comment

“He’s not going to be elected on what he didn’t say. He’s concocted an image of himself through cornball sunsets and WASP-y faces and no one remembers what he says…the images [are what] stick” (McGinniss 117).

This quote from Jim Sage rings truest to me when looking at the similarities of elections, primarily the 1968 and 2008 elections. Looking back on the days after the 2008 debates, it wasn’t the issues debated that were being talked about by my friends and coworkers. It was how many times Palin winked, how frail (or not) McCain looked, or what Michelle Obama was wearing.

In the 1968 election, much was done to try and make Nixon more television-friendly, primarily by trying to improve his physical appearance, because it was thought that his elderly appearance in the 1960 election cost him the win. I strongly believe that this proved to be a serious disadvantage to McCain as well, who looked old and frail when placed next to the younger, healthier-looking Obama. But I feel it wasn’t just McCain’s looks that cost him the election. Obama made him look older and less virile in comparison, which called voter’s minds to McCain’s mortality. When the mortality of a potential president is called to mind, voters place even more importance in his second-in-command, and McCain’s was Palin. Perhaps voters could have looked beyond the age issue, were it not for the fact that having McCain as president would place the inexperienced Palin a heartbeat away from the position. As with the 1968 election, one candidate’s youth  made the other look old on television, but I feel it also made voters consider his mortality and vote based on his running mate.

One interesting difference between the 1968 and the 2008 elections is the use of face versus symbols. Nixon, who was not a particularly attractive man, still relied on his face as the symbol for his election, obsessing over his appearance on TV and boldly displaying it on campaign posters. In recent years, however, candidates have adopted symbols for elections that don’t revolve around their appearance. George W. Bush made the letter “W” synonymous with his campaign, as did Obama with “O”. While, naturally, these two recent candidates did project their facial images in other ways, the appropriation of alphabetical symbols is a new and interesting move.

One of the most prominent differences between the 2008 and 1968 campaigns is the access to and coverage of candidate’s personal lives. I noticed that in The Selling of the President there was little focus on Nixon’s family when it came to projecting his image. At one point one of his advisers even realizes that it would be good to have Nixon’s family present at his panels, something that seems to go without saying in recent elections. There was little talk of Nixon family grooming, whereas it seemed that the Obamas, McCains, and Palins were consistently present in the recent campaign, and all were tailored to project certain images. I have no doubt that this stems from our increasingly celebrity-obsessed culture, which tries to make the everyday into something sensational and entertaining (just look at reality shows). The 2008 candidates were not just politicians: they were celebrities even more than Nixon was, and current US culture places monumental emphasis on the personal lives and families of celebrities.

McGinniss writes of how “the television celebrity is a vessel”, and indeed, because of the 1968 election, politicians have become both television celebrities and vessels for their parties. Despite the ever-increasing media scrutiny into candidates’ lives, they all must change themselves to appear more “real” and “American” (exactly as Nixon did with his “new Nixon” strategy) in order to be successful vessels. What’s being sold to the public is not just a candidate, but a brand, and this selling truly began to evolve due to Nixon’s ’68 campaign.

BLOG 3: Political Campaigns since Nixon

February 17, 2011 1 comment

How have political campaigns changed since the Nixon campaign of 1968? How have they stayed the same?

The three things that most immediately stick out to me after reading McGinnis’s “Selling of the President” are: television, image, and press.

Concerning image, the 1968 election marked the first time that candidates were packaged and presented to the American people as a product.  The packaging of Nixon in this campaign hardly even represented his true self.  The actual issues took a back seat to using all means to present Nixon to be exactly what the American people thought they wanted-not someone who necessarily shared their beliefs, not someone who was qualified for the job, but merely someone projected a feeling of trust, likability, and good feelings about the country.

The 1968 campaign also set a precedent for use of television for every subsequent presidential election to date.  Although television had also played a key role in the 1960 election, Nixon’s campaign seemed revolutionary for two main reasons: (1) their use of TV as a controlled medium and (2) their reliance on TV as a means to avoid the press.  As far as being a controlled medium, the Nixon campaign staff sought to control every detail of production and direction.  Additionally, since the Nixon campaign wanted to avoid the press television became their sole means for communication with the public.

This leads into the last outstanding point of the Nixon campaign: their approach to dealing with the press — not to deal with the press.  Nixon’s campaign seemed to be able to avoid interaction with the press, and still survive, and even win by solely depending on television (and radio).

Considering just these three issues in terms of contemporary campaigning some similarities can be drawn but there are also dramatic differences. The most obvious difference is that no candidate running an election for office, especially such a high office as president, could ever get away with ignoring the press.  Not only would a candidate be blasted for avoiding the press, but I do not think he would be physically able to do so.  Additionally, no candidate would ever even think of ignoring the press because the press provides vital coverage for the candidates when they want the attention of the nation.  With the ludicrous cost of political campaigns, press coverage is, at the very least, free publicity.

Related to this issue, I do not think any contemporary presidential candidate would be able to get away with shirking the issues as much as Nixon did.  Nixon’s campaign seemed totally based on a contrived image of the candidate, presented to just the right audience with little to no attention paid to the issues.  Nixon addressed issues by speaking in general, nice sounding terms and focused instead on presenting himself to the audience correctly.  Although contemporary candidates surely must  maintain a certain image in order to be elected, I like to think that campaigns now put a stronger focus on policy.  Candidates may have go-to answers for hot topic issues, but surely it would not be well received for a candidate to glaze over the issue with shallow, rosy responses. To emphasize the vagueness of Nixon’s policies and his reliance on imagery and good feelings to persuade the voter, I have included a link to one of his campaign ads. This ad is a perfect example of presenting pleasing imagery on top of feel-good rhetoric in order to present a picture of American under Nixon that voters would “buy”.

On the other hand, the packaging of candidates and the importance of their image continues to be just as influential as it was in the Nixon campaign.  Despite campaigns’ more serious approach to addressing issues, image is just as important.  Perhaps the most pertinent example of the influence of image is Obama’s campaign.  Just as Nixon was packaged to be an experienced and personable man who would restore dignity to American, Obama was packaged as hope and change.  Not only was Obama packaged as hope and change, he was elected for hope and change. The book made it clear that when people voted for Nixon they were voting for his image.  Similarly, a mass amount of people who voted for Obama were not voting for his policies, they were voting for hope and change.

A final comparison to draw between Nixon’s campaign and contemporary campaigns their reliance on television.  Obviously, TV continues to be an absolutely vital medium for candidates to use, and no one could be elected without heavy use of television. However, in today’s world of advanced technology so many other forms of media exist that can be used to reach different audience and obtain different advantages.  Websites, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and twitter are only a few.  Within the past few years each of these tools has become available for campaign use and most likely the full use of each of these mediums has yet to be discovered.  Again, Obama presents an excellent example as being the first candidate to use social media as a critical and effective part of his campaign.

In conclusion, while candidates still heavily rely on image and the use of television to make their campaign successful, no candidate could ignore the press as Nixon did.  Just as Nixon and his campaign staff revolutionized the way advertising and television would be used to sell the president as a package, Obama and future candidates will revolutionize the use of social media as a way to create a more personal connection with their audience and mobilize supporters.