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Political Persuasion

A college student's perspective on the two crazy worlds of PR and politics

“I’ll tweet, I’ll text, I’ll do whatever it takes…”

Lately, I’ve written about the classic campaign advertisements (such as LBJ’s daisy ad and JFK’s catchy jingle) that completely changed the political PR landscape. Today, I will take a look at a modern political ad.  Although I would not consider Senator Chuck Grassley’s ad a typical political advertisement, I think you will find it both interesting and for some…extremely entertaining.

So, what was Senator Grassley trying to say? That he’s just like one of us? Maybe.  Purpose aside, there is no doubt that this 77 year-old Senator from Iowa captured the attention of Americans nationwide.  His YouTube videos typically receive a few hundred views, but his new ad has over 70,000 hits!

Recently, the renowned PR firm Burson-Marsteller released a study that found that Republicans are far more active on Twitter than their Democratic counterparts. In fact, eight of the ten most followed Twitter accounts maintained by members of Congress are held by Republicans, the study says.

Whether you find Senator Chuck Grassley’s ad weird (as The Christian Science Monitor does) or innovative, there is no doubt that both Democrats and Republicans need to recognize the importance of social media.  There are millions of conversations going on each day.  You can do one of two things–ignore it or join it!  President Obama’s campaign team, for example, was successful because they drew on the suggestions and insights of Americans from a variety of different backgrounds.

I am curious to see how different age groups interpret Senator Grassley’s new ad.  Are you convinced?

Theodore Sorensen’s Legacy

As many of you know, Theodore Sorensen, who was JFK’s brilliant speechwriter and close adviser, passed away today at a New York hospital at the age of 82. Sorensen has a rich legacy, and I believe Tim Wiener’s piece in the New York Times does an excellent job highlighting many of Sorensen’s accomplishments and meaningful contributions to the JFK administration.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about Kennedy’s historic presidential campaign.  As I read through various articles online, I came across Sorensen’s name and learned that he was particularly influential in overcoming anti-Catholic prejudice when JFK decided to run for office.

He is probably best known for working with JFK on his 1961 inaugural address, which challenged Americans with the infamous phrase: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  According to Weiner’s article in the New York Times, Sorensen drew on the Bible, the Gettysburg Address and the words of Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill for inspiration.

What I find interesting is that in spite all the media we are bombarded with today, we cannot neglect the power of words.  Sorensen’s talent and wisdom will transcend generations.  His words and insights will be used as inspiration for years to come.

“We stand today on the edge of a new frontier”

Today, I decided to take a look at what inspired me to create this blog–clever campaign advertisements that revolutionized the way we look at PR and politics. There is no denying that JFK completely changed the way Americans view the modern President.  He was an expert at cultivating an image for himself, and gaining the trust of Americans nationwide.

The charismatic Senator from Massachusetts proved to Americans that we were ready for a”new frontier”–one that incorporates intelligence, sophistication and renewed faith in the Presidency.  JFK (with the help of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy) became a fashion icon.  Legend has it that JFK even ended the tradition of men wearing formal hats in the United States.

When you look at the advertisement above, you cannot help but remember the Kennedy name.  As the catchy jingle comes to an end, you are left with an image of JFK and his family.   This image paved the way for future presidential candidates, and showed that Americans DO care about a candidate’s personal life. When President Obama decided to run for office, I remember hearing as much about his family as I did about his public policy agenda.

There are so many factors, especially now with a 24/7 news cycle, that go into creating a successful political campaign.  JFK’s interactions with the media and innovative ad campaign helped us realize the complexity of politics and public opinion.

Ronald Reagan: The Politics of Symbolism

When I was a press intern on the Hill, I was asked to direct VIP tours of the US Capitol building. I had certain tricks to remember my route.  I knew that in order to exit the Rotunda, I would have to find the bronze statue of President Reagan.  With each day, I became more curious about this man behind the statue.  What motivated Reagan’s unique ideology? How was he able to captivate audiences throughout the nation?  One of my former Professors recommended that I read Ronald Reagan: The Politics of Symbolism by Robert Dallek.  I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in politics, psychology and the compelling story behind the Reagan administration.

Okay, so here are some points I found interesting:

Reagan, Dallek argues, is a “contradiction in terms—a hero of the consumer culture preaching the Protestant ethic.”  Throughout the book, Dallek references Reagan’s father whose “uncontrolled behavior placed an exaggerated premium on self-mastery in the former president’s own life and in the life of the nation.” Dallek examines the psychological impetus behind the “Reagan ideology,” and argues that the administration relied heavily on symbols rather than on reality.

Reagan feared the prospect of being the “bad guy,” and when he was an actor, he often took roles that preached morality and wholesome American values. Reagan was also claustrophobic. At the age of three, he crawled underneath a train to reach an ice wagon on the other side of the train tracks.  His mother picked him up and “larruped” him, Dallek describes.  A few years later, Reagan was riding in an old Ford touring car that had tipped over mid-trip.  He was nearly smothered, but was saved and did not suffer any serious injuries.  To Reagan, it was better to be the rescuer than the rescued.  These events transformed into symbolic manifestations that guided much of Reagan’s conservative anti-communist ideology.  He perceived the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”—an atheist and immoral state where the people were entirely dependent on the government.  Regan believed it was his duty to “rescue” these oppressed Soviet people and instill moral “American values.”

It’s interesting how one’s personal past can affect an entire political ideology.  Each politician has a story–a different path with unique motivations.  I often find myself drawing parallels between President Obama and President Reagan.  Both lacked stable father figures.  Both promoted change and instilled a sense of confidence among the American people.  Both are portrayed as heroic figures, with the difficult task of saving the nation.  I think sometimes we forget that these Presidents are not statues–they are people too, with their own stories, struggles and opinions.

Twitter and the Midterm Elections

When I first heard about Twitter, I assumed it was a fad.  I would read online about how celebrities were using Twitter as a way to update fans about their daily lives.  I automatically associated Twitter with the guilty-pleasure tabloid magazines I would read at the grocery store checkout counter.  The thought didn’t even cross my mind that Twitter could potentially be a major communication tool in politics. Well, it’s safe to say I was in for a shock.

I’ve been tweeting regularly for about a month.  I’m learning quickly that Twitter is more than 140 character updates; it is a way to ask questions, learn about people’s interests and get a conversation going.  One of the biggest conversations going on right now is about the midterm elections.  Republicans, Democrats and Independents are sharing insights about campaign strategy, healthcare legislation, environmental policy and many other topics affecting the upcoming elections.

Richard Adams of The Guardian has an excellent live blog that features news and insights about the midterm election Twitter conversation: http://tiny.cc/4swbt.  Campaign advertising is a recurring topic in the twittersphere.

Adams cites polling guru, Nate Silver’s recent tweet:

“There’s a good argument to be made that Whitman and McMahon would be better off if they’d run fewer commercials.”

I could not agree more! When someone runs for office, he or she is representing the people.  Instead of attacking opponents, let’s try to bridge the gap between the “average Joe” and “Senator X.”  There are many candidates who are taking advantage of new media—creating Facebook and Twitter accounts, posting pictures, writing blogs and responding to inquiries at iTownhall meetings.

I’m not completely discrediting traditional media.  Campaign advertisements do have a large effect on certain demographics.  In his blog, Adams cites a Harvard poll that looks at the 18-29 year-old demographic.  Just 40% will definitely vote in November and just 25% say they are politically engaged.  College students are one of the largest groups using social media tools, so why wouldn’t a candidate jump on the Twitter bandwagon? I just feel, especially with young college students, there is a need for authenticity and transparency.  I want to be able to interact with the candidate.  I want to know that someone is listening.

If candidates are looking to motivate young people to get to the polls, then they should do just that—motivate! Motivation is not found in petty attack ads; it is found in authentic conversation that gives a reason as to why it is important to support or oppose a particular candidate.

The Power of Daisy

With midterm elections just around the corner, I thought it be fitting to take a look at one of the most influential campaign advertisements of all time–the 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson daisy ad. The ad was designed to attack Barry Goldwater’s comments about nuclear weapons in Vietnam.  Was it effective? Many would argue, yes.  There’s no denying, however, that it was shocking and it completely revolutionized political campaign advertisements.

Often times, we are confronted with a GIANT either/or fallacy: if you don’t support “Candidate X,” then the entire world will fall apart.  LBJ’s ad may have used an either/or fallacy, but I don’t think it was merely an attack ad–it was a social commentary.  It presented a vital issue in a rather artistic way, while provoking conversation.  LBJ’s press team did not have the luxury (or some would argue, curse) of new media.  There was no way to stir up conversations on twitter or through blogging.  Facebook and sophisticated campaign Web sites did not exist. It was this ad–this single piece of persuasion that created a dialogue among Americans.

So I wonder…do political campaign ads have the same effect on us today?

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