Monica Lewinsky recently published an article in Vanity Fair about her affair with Bill Clinton during his presidency. The article entitled “Shame and Survival” details how she negotiated the press spotlight and what she describes as “global humiliation” after her affair with Clinton became public.  Lewinsky wrote she hoped sharing her story would help those who are currently cyber bullied: “Perhaps by sharing my story, I reasoned, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation. The question became: How do I find and give a purpose to my past?”  Many media outlets reported on Lewinsky’s essay in terms of how it will affect Hillary Clinton’s presumed 2016 presidential campaign. One editorial claimed Lewinsky’s story serves a reminder why “Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve female voter support” and Bill Clinton should not be back in the White House. 
The policy stances and private lives of candidates are often blurred within presidential elections. Political commentators often argue that with the advent of the Internet, the private lives of presidential candidates are now under even closer scrutiny. Yet, it would be incorrect to assume the emphasis on candidates’ private lives is a recent occurrence. An examination of the 1828 presidential election between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams demonstrates that the “private” lives of political candidates have always been a matter of public attention.
The details of Andrew Jackson’s marriage to Rachel Donelson caused controversy during the 1828 presidential election. Rachel Donelson married her first husband, Captain Lewis Robards, at 18 years old in 1785. By 1790, the two separated and Robards told Donelson he was filing for divorce. Andrew Jackson and Donelson married in 1791, believing the divorce was final. Two years later, the Jacksons learned Robards never filed for divorce and Rachel was married to two men. In 1794, Robards was granted a divorce on the grounds of adultery. The Jackson’s quietly remarried the same year after the divorce was finalized (left).
This scandal was in the foreground of the 1828 election between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. The press widely covered the story and Jackson’s opponents argued the scandal was evidence of “his unfitness for station to which he aspires.”  Charles Hammond, a critic of Andrew Jackson, wrote a campaign pamphlet entitled, “View of Jackson’s Domestic Relations: In Reference to His Fitness for the Presidency.” He argued that Mrs. Jackson’s past as a “bigamist and adulterer” made her unfit to be First Lady of the United States:
Whatever may be thought or said of other offices, every candid man must agree that the office of the President necessarily brings the immediate family of the officer, into direct connection with the public. . . If the President is a married man, his wife at least, must share the distinction of the station he occupies. 
The First Lady, according to Hammond, is a reflection of the nation’s character and if she is morally impure, then it reflects poorly on the entire nation. He wrote: “If her character be stained with suspicion it affects all around her, the community of which she is head” . Jackson was also portrayed as a “seducer” of a married woman with little regard for moral standards. His lack of moral compass in his personal life, according to Adams supporters, demonstrated he was incapable of moral political leadership. Hammond asked the American public: “ought a convicted adulteress, and her paramour husband be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?” 
The American people answered yes. Andrew Jackson won the election with 178 electoral votes and almost 56% of the popular vote. Rachel Jackson (right) passed away before ever serving as First Lady. She died December 24, 1828, three months before Jackson’s inauguration. Part of her epitaph read, “A being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor.”  The election of 1828 is just one of many in the history American presidential elections that spotlighted the “private life” scandals of nominees and spouses. This may lead us to ponder: Why do the “private” lives of our politicians and their significant others receive so much attention during presidential elections?
 “Monica Lewinsky Writes About Her Affair with President Clinton,” Vanity Fair. http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/05/monica-lewinsky-speaks
 Linda Stasi. “Monica Lewinsky’s Story Reminds Us Bill Clinton is to blame, Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve Female Voter Support,” New York Daily News, May 11, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/stasi-monica-lewinsky-story-rings-true-article-1.1787850
 Charles Hammond. “View of General Jackson’s Domestic Relations in Reference to his Fitness for the Presidency,” Truth’s Advocate (1828): 1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 3.
 “White House History First Ladies: Rachel Jackson,” The White House Historical Association, http://www.whitehousehistory.org/history/white-house-first-ladies/first-lady-rachel-jackson-emily-donelson.html
The 2008 presidential election was an especially difficult time for the Republican Party. The party’s candidate, Arizona Senator John McCain, not only had to contend with his Democratic opponent but also with the public’s general disillusion with the George W. Bush presidency. The political cartoon, “Maverick No More,” epitomizes McCain’s struggle during the 2008 election. The cartoon was created by Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent, who retired in 2009.
George W. Bush was known somewhat as a southern cowboy, who lived on a large ranch in Texas when not at the White House. In the cartoon, Bush is seen branding a large “W” into a steer that has the face of McCain. In the corner of the cartoon is the title, “Maverick No More,” which refers to McCain’s nickname as “The Maverick.” This branding is symbolic for the significant impact the Bush administration had on the McCain campaign in 2008 and the difficulty McCain had with differentiating himself from the unpopular president.
Despite having the highest approval rating of any president after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush left office in January 2009 with one of the lowest approval ratings in history (22%). After it came to light that the government presented evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (which ultimately led to the United States’ involvement in Iraq) as more concrete than it actually was, both conflicts in the Middle East, as well as the president, became increasingly unpopular with the American public. Also, the U.S. economy took a major hit leading up to the 2008 presidential election, which also contributed to Bush’s abysmal approval ratings. After two unpopular wars and a tanking economy, the American people were dissatisfied with the president and the Republican Party he represented.
McCain desperately needed to separate himself from the unpopular Bush administration. However, while McCain urged that he disapproved of Bush’s management of the Iraq war, news organizations reported that McCain and Bush remained very similar in their views about the economy and the continuation of the Iraq war. These issues were two of the most important in the 2008 election and McCain struggled to separate himself from Bush while still remaining loyal to his conservative ideals.
While McCain attempted to demonstrate to the American people that he was different from fellow Republican Bush, Obama incorporated this dissatisfaction into his campaign slogan.
Despite McCain’s attempts to differentiate himself from Bush, Americans continued to see the Republicans as too similar for their liking. In June 2008, respondents to a USA Today/Gallup poll confirmed that McCain was in trouble: 49 percent of respondents claimed they were very concerned that McCain would pursue policies similar to the one’s Bush pursued and another 19 percent were somewhat concerned. Obama referred to these concerns often in his campaign discourse. McCain was dubbed “McBush,” past policies were referred to as “Bush-McCain policies” and Obama’s campaign often stated that a vote for McCain was a vote for a third Bush term. These statements reinforced the public’s fears that McCain and the very unpopular Bush were much more alike than the McCain team wanted to admit.
McCain countered these attacks by focusing on Obama’s lack of political experience, claiming that “the American people didn’t get to know me yesterday, as they are just getting to know Senator Obama.” However, America’s dissatisfaction with the Republican Party ran too deep. In November 2008, Americans voted for the candidate who ran on “change” rather than the Republican candidate that reminded them all too well of the preceding president.
CBSNews, “Bush’s Final Approval Rating: 22 Percent,” CBS, January 16, 2009, accessed May 15, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/bushs-final-approval-rating-22-percent/
James Gerber, “McCain: I’m Not Bush III,” ABC, June 3, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2008/06/mccain-im-not-b/
Jeffrey F. Jones, “Americans Worry McCain Would Be Too Similar to Bush,” USA Today/Gallup, July 1, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://www.gallup.com/poll/108490/Americans-Worry-McCain-Would-Too-Similar-Bush.aspx
Barack Obama, “Remarks in Charleston, West Virginia: ‘The Cost of War,’” The White House, March 20, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=76994
Michael Cooper, “McCain Distances Himself from Bush and Jabs Obama,” New York Times, June 4, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/04/us/politics/04mccain.html?pagewanted=print
Freckles Cassie, “George W. Bush,” Political Teen Tidbits, March 09, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://frecklescassie.wordpress.com/category/george-w-bush/
Oliver, “Troop Elections—From Oliver’s Blog,” Troop 90, September 30, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://t90pacificgrove.blogspot.com/
In 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for president of the United States of America amidst high levels of political discrimination against her, personally, and against women in politics in general. Her campaign events were constantly raided by observers with differing beliefs about the role of women in society. Some of these observers, judging from the signs held up in protest, believed that a woman did not belong at the podium campaigning for President of the United States, that woman’s place is in the domestic sphere tending to the matters at home. A now-famous sign which read “Iron my shirt,” was held up by a heckler at one of Clinton’s final stops during the New Hampshire primaries . Clearly this sign of protest, one of the few public displays throughout the campaign, was a sign of distaste for Clinton– her person and her politics. Clinton’s response to the New Hampshire heckler was strident as she dismissively noted, “Ah, the signs of sexism still alive and well” .
In addition to homemade signs from hecklers, blogs, vlogs and independent websites hosted various offensive signs and posters such as “Bros before hoes,” “Hillary Clinton the Communist Bitch of D.C.,” and pictures of her as a witch flying over the U.S. Capitol on a broom stick. Sexist remarks like these, while uncommon in the popular media, illustrated the shreds of sexism still at work in U.S. presidential politics. Household items like nutcrackers were fashioned after Clinton and sold independently on websites like EBay and Amazon.
Despite humiliating portrayals of Clinton in the media and blogosphere, she was the most successful woman to run for president. Her campaign for president was one of the most formidable campaigns ever run by a woman and she came very close to winning. In her concession speech on June 7th 2008, she remarked that “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it…”  While that speech was one of the hardest pieces of public discourse for Hillary supporters to listen to, it was also a speech that signaled unity in the Democratic Party around the nominee Senator Barack Obama. Nonetheless, Clinton did not shy away from addressing the girls and women for whom she worked tirelessly on the campaign, the people for whom she paved a path to the Oval Office.
It seems obvious, and perhaps it goes without saying, that the misogynistic images which percolated during Clinton’s campaign contributed to the loss of her credibility with the voting public. In each of the medium(ia) identified above, Clinton was portrayed as the less than ideal candidate whose femininity was different from the norm and therefore frightening, whose experience was controversial and therefore trivialized, and whose sexuality was tamped-down and therefore undesirable. In her book, Men and Women of the Corporation, Rosabeth Kanter identified “four common stereotypes of professional women: seductress or sex object, mother, pet, and iron maiden” . These stereotypes carried with them the stigma of unsuitability for the highest office of the land and the media sought to portray Clinton as each, in turn.
When Robin Givhan, The Washington Post‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion editor, commented on Clinton’s cleavage during a speech on the Senate floor, she opened the door to a whole new level of cultural conversation about women’s bodies and the suitability of that body to be leader of the free world. Givhan noted that, “The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn’t an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable” . Since Clinton was known for her dark-colored pantsuits, the pink feminine suit she wore to the floor of the senate stirred the imagination and provided fodder for cultural and political commentary. The style of Givhan’s writing was set in an accusatory tone, as if to accuse Clinton of being a woman and thus disqualify her from consideration to be President of the United States.
Was Givhan simply doing her job as fashion critic or was she analyzing Clinton’s couture in accordance with an acceptable mode of dress in order to disqualify her? Comments like Givhan’s were peppered throughout the campaign and were delivered in sometimes more brutal ways. While Clinton was not directly referred to as a sex-object, the sale of the nutcracker which opened its legs wide to crack an assortment of nuts touched on the subject of her sexuality. Through the marketing of this product, Clinton’s toughness and political skill was called into question. As the most experienced of the candidates in the Democratic Party primary, her ability to maneuver the politics of Congress was seen as threatening. Clinton’s political savvy earned her the favorite status even before the election began. So, what better way to highlight the anxiety which her masculine opponents felt than to iconize her as a “nutcracker?” In her piece on “Misogyny I Won’t Miss,” Marie Cocco noted, “I will not miss walking past airport concessions selling the Hillary Nutcracker, a device in which a pantsuit-clad Clinton doll opens her legs to reveal stainless-steel thighs that, well, bust nuts. I won’t miss television and newspaper stories that make light of the novelty item” .
In conclusion, while the directive to Clinton to “Iron my shirt” was the height of brutal assaults against her femininity, it pales in comparison to the other misogynistic innuendos about her sexuality. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign for president of the United States reified many of the negative stereotypes leveled against women who have sought political leadership. Looking forward to the 2016 presidential election, the Ready for Hillary PAC, has been garnering support for another potential run for the presidency. It is my hope that this second go-around will yield a cultural/political climate where Clinton can be viewed as a dynamic, multi-dimensional candidate.
 Graham, Nicholas. “Sexist Hecklers Interrupt Hillary: “Iron My Shirt!”” The Huffington Post. 07 January 2008.
 Clinton, Hillary. “Hillary Clinton Endorses Barack Obama.” The New York Times. 07 June 2008.
 Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. Men and Women of the Corporation. New York: Basic, 1977.
 Givhan, Robin. “Hillary Clinton’s Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory.” Washington Post. 20 July 2007.
 Cocco, Marie. “Misogyny I Won’t Miss.” Washington Post. 15 May 2008.
The 1968 election was a chaotic political contest between Richard Nixon (R), sitting Vice President Hubert Humphrey (D), and third-party candidate George Wallace (I). From the moment President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced he wouldn’t pursue another term (March 31, 1968) through election night November 5, 1968, the candidates—specifically Democrat Hubert Humphrey—faced a challenging battle for the top spot in the White House. In the throes of the Vietnam War, which had gotten bloodier on the watch of Lyndon Johnson, and the ongoing Civil Rights struggles (Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April of this election year), a serious state of political and social chaos and violence became a daily reality in the United States. This was the political context that candidates faced in the election of 1968.
Like the political and social unrest troubling the nation in the 1960s and especially this presidential election, the Democratic Party suffered from ideological divides, infighting, and general disunity. Whereas Richard Nixon’s nomination to the Republican Party ticket was “smooth and almost mechanical,” Humphrey was nominated in a starkly different situation: party pandemonium.  In the Democratic primaries, there were several candidates vying for the nomination—Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey—and these initial contests were heated and messy, especially during the primary debates. Democrats were divided among the primary candidates—most were initially drawn away from Hubert Humphrey due to his association with LBJ; Humphrey symbolically represented “the Establishment” and therefore its dangers: the “pro-war, bomb-the-Cong position.” . This rhetorical transfer made Humphrey’s campaign for the White House increasingly difficult. He was often heckled at his rallies with signs reading “How Many Primaries Have You Won?”  Although all three of the candidates experienced serious heckling on the campaign trail, Gordon Bennett argues that Humphrey’s hecklers heckled Humphrey the worst.  In the time between the primaries and the general election, Eugene McCarthy withdrew and Robert Kennedy—considered to be a real contender—was assassinated. Humphrey had garnered enough delegates, so the Democratic Party nominated him for its presidential ticket to take on Nixon.
Humphrey was slated to deliver an acceptance address to a favorable attending party audience that August in Chicago (Text here; Video here). However, the Democrats “were beset by organized plans to disrupt the convention proceedings within the hall and throughout the city. The Coalition for an Open Convention had brought about 1,200 dissenting Democrats to Chicago two months in advance in order to plan challenges to delegate credentials and also a platform repudiating the Democratic administration.”  The area outside the convention was overrun with mobs and riots broke out. Perhaps it was Humphrey’s synecdoche problem—his White House administrative connection with LBJ that equated Humphrey with Johnson—or perhaps RFK’s lingering supporters were the main culprits. Regardless, the Democratic Party was truly tumultuous, and Humphrey’s occasion was the opposite of the traditional ritual purpose of the party convention: to celebrate party unity, bolster the party ideology, and celebrate the candidate. Brock argues “The confrontation at the Chicago convention had more symbolic or rhetorical impact than any other event in the 1968 campaign. It served as a climax to the Jonson administration, and it communicated to the nation that the Democratic Party and our society were deeply divided between doves and hawks, blacks and whites, rich and poor, young and old. No one liked nor understood what they saw and heard, so they rejected the entire experience.”  Meanwhile, in Miami at the Republican National Convention, all was peaceful on the Nixon front.
Before turning to the text of Humphrey’s speech, some common features of Nominating Conventions/Partisan rhetoric is worth noting. Scholars Trent and Friedenberg assert that acceptance addresses at National Conventions should satisfy four purposes:
First, the address is the means through which the candidate publicly assumes the role of a candidate/leader of the party;
Second, the address should generate a strong positive response from the immediate audience;
Third, it should serve to unify the party;
Finally, it is a partisan political address, which in some instances may be the most important such address the candidate makes through the campaign. 
As Robert Nordvold reminds in his article, Humphrey’s immediate rhetorical constraint was delivering this address “to the dissent and riot-torn convention.”  Drawing on Lloyd Bitzer’s term “rhetorical situation,” Nordvold characterizes the final evening of the political convention as such “not just because the nominee’s acceptance speech is scheduled for that time, but, quite the reverse, the nature of the occasion, the character of the audience, and the constraints engendered by the previous days events, structured to produce a climactic moment of victory.”  Like Trent and Friedenberg’s purposes for the acceptance speech, the convention speech functions as “a public assumption by the nominee of the leadership of the party; elicits from the delegates concerted, vocal response indicating their support of the nominee; and presents to the wider audience a demonstration of political solidarity and ideological unity.”  Traditionally, Nordvold argues, this combination of purposes and functions results in political ritual.
With these party convention purposes in mind, I turn to a very brief analysis of the primary text of Humphrey’s Acceptance Speech. Considering the broad political and election context along with the “party pandemonium” framework, I will highlight the ways in which Humphrey’s address either succeeded or failed to satisfy those purposes and venture to answer the question of why Humphrey’s rhetoric failed to deliver a victory in November 1968.
“A New Day for America”: Humphrey’s Rhetoric Miscarries
Humphrey’s acceptance speech was an opportunity to unify the party after a tumultuous primary season, which would hopefully result in a Democratic win in the general election. It was also an opportunity to distinguish himself from the legacy of LBJ and the horrors of the Vietnam War. Humphrey could have proposed specific social and legal policies or made promises to the party. He could have addressed his rhetorical situation with humility, or referenced the angry mob of dissenters outside of the convention hall. He didn’t quite do any of those things in the speech; he even said, prior to the convention that “events are going to have more to do with this election than my rhetoric.”  Nordvold goes as far to argue “in short, he solved the problems confronting him by avoiding them.”  Throughout the speech, Humphrey speaks very abstractly with platitudes like “At this convention, too, we have recognized the end of an era and the beginning of a new day” without explaining what he means by the former era and what would be new. 
Without any mention of his own stances on the issues of the day or “the new day,” Humphrey appeals to tradition and the “godlike” Democrats that preceded him in office, in the effort to transfer their positive qualities to his candidacy, a common rhetorical technique during campaigns:
In the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, who knew that America had nothing to fear but fear itself…and it is in the tradition of Harry Truman who let’em have it and told it like it was. And that’s the way we’re going to do it from here on out.
It is in the tradition of that beloved man, Adlai Stevenson, who talked sense to the American people. And, oh, tonight, how we miss that great, good and gentle man of peace in America.
And my fellow Americans, all that we do and all that we ever hope to do, must be in the tradition of John F. Kennedy who said to us: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country.
And what we are doing is in the tradition of Lyndon B. Johnson who rallied a grief-stricken nation when our leader was stricken by the assassin’s bullet and said to you and said to me and said to all the world: “Let us continue.”
And in the space of five years since that tragic moment, President Johnson has accomplished more of the unfinished business of America than any of his modern predecessors.
Humphrey channels his predecessors’ successes but presents no “new” policies or ideas. He praises LBJ’s character in the wake of John Kennedy’s assassination, but does not speak of the controversial decisions made regarding Vietnam. He speaks of peace in Vietnam but lays out no plan. In this way, I believe Humphrey is aiming to transcend the divisive party attitude towards LBJ and instead replace it with a quality most would agree is virtuous: his leadership and fortitude during and after JFK was tragically assassinated. It seems as though Humphrey is aiming to bolster this quality while suppressing the controversy.
He channels JFK once again:
Now, let me ask you, do you remember these words, at another time, in a different place: “Peace and freedom do not come cheap. And we are destined — All of us here today — to live out most, if not all of our lives, in uncertainty and challenge and peril.”
The words of a prophet? Yes.
The words of a President? Yes.
The words of the challenge of today? Yes.
And the words of John Kennedy to you and to me and to me and to posterity.
If there were a catalogued rhetorical strategy “Appealing to JFK,” Humphrey surely would fit the bill for employing it liberally (pun intended). Both parties appeal to past “great presidents,” probably in the effort to transfer their qualities to the present candidate at the podium. While it works to pull the heartstrings and bring about glandular responses in the audience, in Humphrey’s particular situation it did not work. Humphrey wasn’t at the center of a usual party convention—the situation called for something else. What Humphrey lacked in savoir-faire, he arguably made up for in empty clichés.
There are many more detailed analyses on the text of Hubert Humphrey’s Acceptance Speech and the rhetorical ornament he (unsuccessfully) employed. However, what I hoped to do in this brief analysis was to highlight the relationship between the party and the presidential candidate and the importance of unity. There is a clear relationship between the chaotic Democratic Party of 1968 and the events of the 1968 Democratic Campaign, as well as a possible causal relationship between the health of the party and the outcome of the election. Richard Nixon did not need to worry about unifying a party on top of all the existing work it takes to win an election. Humphrey’s acceptance speech illustrates an attempt to transcend party division—smooth over, bolster past success—rather than an honest attempt to actively unify through rhetorical action.
This was certainly not the first—or last—time a political party would be divided. Is it possible, though, that even given the problems of a two-party system, party unity prevents American political pandemonium?
 Robert O. Nordvold, “Rhetoric as Ritual: Hubert H. Humphrey’s Acceptance Address at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.” Today’s Speech 18, no. 1 (1970): 34-38.
 Gordon C. Bennett, “The heckler and the heckled in the presidential campaign of 1968.” Communication Quarterly 27, no. 2 (1979): 28-37.
 Ibid. Hubert Humphrey was the only candidate not to enter any of the primaries, which was why the signs read as such.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 8th ed., s.v. “United States presidential election of 1968.” Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1586266/United-States-presidential-election-of-1968.
 Bernard Brock, “1968 Democratic Campaign: A Political Upheaval.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 55, no. 1 (1969): 26-35.
 Judith S. Trent and Robert V. Friedenbert, Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practices 2nd Edition. New York: Praeger (1991), 183-189.
 Robert O. Nordvold, “Rhetoric as Ritual: Hubert H. Humphrey’s Acceptance Address at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.” Today’s Speech 18, no. 1 (1970): 34-38.
 Hubert H. Humphrey, “A New Day for America” (Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, IL, August 29, 1968) The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25964. Also, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJ-659b76h4.
Riot photo from Chicago Tribune files.
Heckler cartoon: http://d1k217qge1tz5p.cloudfront.net/img/Items/6000/5507.jpg
Humphrey speaking: http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Hubert_Humphrey_5779.jpg
Interesting Reference: 1968 Democratic Party Platform
It wouldn’t be too difficult to edit together a fancy video segment juxtaposing news anchors and pundits, one after the other, exhibiting the “horse race” metaphor as it applies to presidential election cycles. It is an easily digestible metaphor centered wholly on the winner take all, one shot, race to the finish. A race, of course, where spectators sit back and watch the animals strain to be the best, the first, the champion. Although the average American voter may fail to comprehend the origins of “derby day,” or the high stake betting associated with horse racing, the thrill of victory and agony of a close defeat is very palpable in American political culture. In presidential politics, the horse race provides a metaphor for the everyman to understand, simultaneously heightening the sense of urgency experienced overall.
Is this a symptom of our twenty-first century, twenty-four cable news cycle? Does the image of the horse race circulate because of the contentious climate in today’s national and divisive elections? A campaign song pamphlet from 1858 entitled “The White House Race” suggests differently. Set to the tune of “Camptown Races,” the lyrics compare candidates to horses in a mad dash, enticing the voter to bet on the “mustang colt,” over the “old gray” horse. From the parody of the tune to the imagery advanced in the lyrics, the horse race is alive and well on the way to the White House, long before television – let along cable news outlets – heralded horse race mentality of presidential politics.
The tune, “Camptown Races” may be a familiar one even to modern audience and its original lyrics also detail a horse race. As the historical marker in Bradford County, Pennsylvania explains, Stephen Foster’s song was written in 1850 about thirty years after the sport had been banned in the state. Pennsylvania Historian Chris Miner suggests that although once considered a spectacle in cities, the sport was outlawed for its “riotous” nature which consisted of running the races down public streets in Philadelphia and elsewhere. But, as Steven A. Reiss details in his book The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime, the sport persisted, perhaps in part to its urgent and high stakes nature of gambling on races, eventually reemerging under legal protections using the race track venues modern audiences recognize today.
Although the horse race metaphor circulates well among publics of voters, one might ask why such a rhetoric may be so pervasive. Why does the electorate respond to the horse race comparison in more recent presidential campaigns? One explanation may be the theory advanced by Allan J. Lichtman in his book, Predicting the Next President, in which he states, “like the [presidential election] polls themselves, the horse-race commentators can never be wrong” (8). Commentators in a horse-race are, quite literally, calling it as they see it – unable to predict what could happen in the next moment. Lichtman continues, suggesting that the metaphor offers an insight into campaigns, but very little insight to elections.
This could not be more accurate and offers one explanation for the pervasive nature of this turn of phrase. The comparisons to the race are clear as the public digests a candidate’s “run” for the presidency as a “run” towards the White House. Political Scientist Anthony C. Broh describes the horse race metaphor as a framework journalists can access that privileges polling data and enhances the entertainment value of presidential campaigns. He writes, “A horse is judged not by its absolute speed or skill but in comparison to the speed of other horses” (515).
There is a strategy for managing curves, there are other competitors who may kick dirt up along the way and incredible breakaways down the home stretch. However, as any spectator of the race is well aware, the horse you bet on at 25-to-1 odds could cost you, while the horse that is a long shot might pay out more in the end. Because of the unpredictable nature of the horse racing scene, it is enthralling and exciting. But most of all, it is anybody’s guess. This best translates to the story campaigns and the media like to tell of an electorate, on the edge of their seats, waiting to see who will come out of the gate strong and who will eke across at the finish line.
Broh goes on to assert that the metaphor serves to bolster the democratic process, even while demonstrating some clear problems. Whereas no such claim is made here, the rhetorical force of the metaphor is certainly worth examining. The accessible image of a horse race, the long tradition of the sport in American culture, and the entertainment value of the chase all collude to bring the metaphor to a memorable photo finish.
- Allan J. Lichtman, Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, 2012).
- Anthony C. Broh, “Horse-Race Journalism: Reporting the Polls in the 1976 Presidential Election,” The Public Opinion Quarterly 44(1980): 514-529.
- Steven A. Reiss, The Sport of Kings and Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865-1913 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011).
- “Camptown Races Historical Marker,” ExplorePaHistory.org, Accessed April 30, 2014, http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-2FA.
In modern elections in the United States there are often scandalous incidents involving one or more presidential candidates or the people closest to them. Most recently, New Jersey Governor and potential 2016 Republican candidate was involved in a bridge scandal, which has severely influenced perceptions of his character and subsequent conversations regarding his potential candidacy. Although Christie claims that “Bridgegate” has not and will not affect his 2016 plans, the scandal still remains a black mark on his record and one of the many examples the role personal character plays in presidential campaign rhetoric.
This is only one type of scandal voters are exposed to during the modern never-ending campaign season. Apart from incidents that involve an action (or inaction) taken while in public office that could affect the welfare of people, skeletons often come out of closets that prompt audiences to question or reconsider a politician’s character. Juicy secrets are revealed about politicians and presidential candidates to audiences willing to indulge them. Often when the skeletons come out, the mudslinging begins—supporters of the other, better candidates not only share the damning information but exploit it in a variety of ways for a particular end—damaging the candidate’s character enough to cost him/her the election to public office. This topic is ripe with content for analysis, but for this blog post I will focus on one 19th century election and a “major scandal” that resulted in rhetorical acts of mudslinging and character attacks, analyzing one particular artifact (while also showing other related images) that acted symbolically to shape perceptions of S. Grover Cleveland in the 1884 election versus James Blaine.
Character attacks, or the latin ad hominem, are not uncommon to political discourse generally. In the historical discourses we have examined as a part of #COMM 760, it is clear that “mudslinging” is not unique to the most current era of politics. Everything about a candidate’s character—appearance, intelligence, and experience, for example—directly impacted that candidate’s trustworthiness as leader of the nation, more so than “issues” in a campaign. As Trevor Parry-Giles explains, “American elections, particularly at the presidential level, are dominated by images and personality-based arguments.” Political images, then, or “verbal and/or visual rhetorical markers of public character and individual persona,” take the abstract idea of “character” and concretize it. With this basic framework in mind, I turn to the primary political image artifact that appeared during the 1884 Cleveland v. Blaine election: a cartoon entitled “Another Voice for Cleveland.”
In this political cartoon appearing in The Judge, magazine Grover Cleveland’s scandalous secret is not only exposed to the audience, but it is exploited in a way that casts Grover Cleveland as cowardly. Ernest Ferguson explains that after the Democratic convention and nomination was secured for Cleveland “came the bombshell. Several days after the Democratic convention, the Buffalo Evening Telegraph published an exposé, headlined ‘A Terrible Tale: A Dark Chapter in a Public Man’s History,’ which revealed a secret episode in Cleveland’s life. The article alleged that Cleveland was the father of an illegitimate 9-year-old child, and that he’d been paying the mother for years to keep her quiet. Republican newspapers gleefully picked up the story, and Blaine supporters started reciting a jeer of their own: ‘Ma, ma, where’s my pa?’” In the cartoon, the child is visibly upset, but the words read, “I want my Pa!” instead of “Where’s my Pa?” This, as the title of the cartoon does, suggests that the child is “another one for Cleveland.” Cleveland is shown looking discombobulated –almost drunken—as he tries to cover his ears and ignore the cries from his child. Cleveland is depicted as shaken and visibly trying to tune the child out, thus he is cowardly in the face of his secret. The child’s mother—the woman, Maria Halpin, whom Cleveland’s affair was with, is shown hiding her face in shame. Perhaps she is portrayed as such because of the allegations that Cleveland paid for her silence over the years.
There is a significant juxtaposition in this cartoon. The tag hanging from Cleveland’s coat reads “Grover the Good.” Before the exposé of his sex scandal was published, Cleveland had a reputation for public integrity. In fact, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The New York World, said, “When a blathering ward politician objects to Cleveland because he is ‘more of a Reformer than a Democrat,’ he furnishes the best argument in favor of Cleveland’s nomination and election.” Ferguson continues, “At the Democratic convention in Chicago, one of Cleveland’s prominent boosters said that his friends ‘love him and respect him, not only for himself, for his character, for his integrity and judgment and iron will, but they love him most for the enemies he has made.’” The Judge cartoon depicts a common rhetorical attack on character: if you think you know “Grover the Good,” think again.
While the cartoon itself serves as an argument against Cleveland’s personal character, Cleveland responds in a way that just might have been the reason he was able to win the election. When offered an envelope containing James Blaine’s scandalous activities, Cleveland paid for it, shredded it, and burned it. Not only did Cleveland own up and accept responsibility for the illegitimate child, he chose to take “the moral high road” when given the opportunity to stoop to his opposition’s level. Ferguson concludes his historical analysis of Cleveland’s sex scandal by saying “Cleveland wasn’t always honest. He had long held a grudge against the press, and during his second term he and aides covered up the news of a tumor in his jaw and surgeries to repair it. However, that did not dent his reputation for personal integrity and putting the public before politics. He died in Princeton, N.J., in 1908, and on his tombstone at the Nassau Presbyterian Church are carved the words: ‘I have tried so hard to do right.’”
Cleveland’s character issue reflects the larger trend in American politics. Michael Calvin McGee reminds us of the ideal principle “not men, but measures” as the basis for electing leaders, but history has proven that it is oft not the case. Character matters for audiences, and one could study any president/presidential candidate in terms of his or her character and that relation to election success. In Cleveland’s case, perhaps the voters appreciated his honesty when the scandal was exposed, and saw Blaine as posessing low-morals:
A delegate from Chicago summed up the situation. “I gather that Mr. Cleveland has shown high character and great capacity in public life but that in private life his conduct is open to question, while on the other hand, Mr. Blaine in public life has been weak and dishonest, while he seems to have been an admirable husband and father. The conclusion I draw from these facts is that we should elect Mr. Cleveland to the public office for which he is admirably qualified to fill and remand Mr. Blaine to the private life which he is so eminently fitted to adorn.”
Grover Cleveland won the election of 1884 and married a woman named Frances Folsom in the White House. Mudslinging, character-attacking discourses are compelling arguments against character that could affect the outcome of an election. But Cleveland countered those arguments by enacting the character he had been previously known to have, ultimately overcoming the attack through his virtuous actions. Perhaps today’s politicians could learn from the strategies of Grover Cleveland in the face of political scandal.
 Trevor Parry-Giles, “Resisting a ‘Treacherous Piety’: Issues, Images, and Public Policy Deliberation in Presidential Campaigns,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 13, no. 1 (2010): 37-38.
 Ibid, 39-40.
 http://elections.harpweek.com/1884/cartoon-1884-Medium.asp?UniqueID=27&Year=; also Ernest B. Ferguson, “Moment of Truth,” American History (2013): 65.
 Judge was a popular Republican-leaning publication (Ferguson 65).
 Ernest B. Ferguson, “Moment of Truth,” American History (2013): 65
 Ernest B. Ferguson, “Moment of Truth,” American History (2013): 66.
 Ibid, 67.
 Ibid, 68.
 Michael C. McGee, ‘Not Men, But Measures’: The Origins and Import of an Ideological Principle,” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 64 (1978): 141-154.
 Ibid, 67.
 Photo, right: Library of Congress. Cleveland’s opposition event went as far as to question his trustworthiness because he went by his middle name!
The first time I heard this song, it ran through my head for days. Days. If I’d been able to vote in 1952, this song would certainly have run through my brain while I stood in the voting booth. The song was written for the Man from Abilene by the great Irving Berlin (left), who gave us such earworms as “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and (of course) “God Bless America.”
While praise is due to Mr. Berlin for Eisenhower’s catchy campaign song, I’d contrast the success of Ike’s original campaign song with the decision to pair original lyrics with familiar melodies. For a modern comparison of this latter composition, I’d point you to Lyndon Johnson’s campaign song, which paired the melody from the title song of Hello, Dolly! with pro-Johnson lyrics. (Hello Dolly! premiered in 1964, the same year Johnson faced reelection.)
Although there are no doubt earlier examples, I first noticed this propensity when we read The Log Cabin and Hard Cider Melodies (1840) for class. This book, along with several others, provided many, many options for singing supporters of Old Tippecanoe (and Tyler, too).While some were set to folk melodies I knew, many were not. (And if you’ve heard of “Turn out, Giovanni, turn out”…well, I’d like to play on your trivia team some time.)
- John Frémont’s (right) songbook (1856) included “Freedom’s Dawn,” an adaptation of “The Morning Light is Breaking.”
- Abraham Lincoln’s signature campaign song, “Lincoln and Liberty” (1860), was based on the “Old Rosin the Beau” (as noted here, among other places)
- Uylsses S. Grant relied on an adaptation of “Low Back Car” in 1872, but his first jam—“Grant, Grant, Grant” (1868)—used “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching!,” a Civil War song that trickled into the popular vernacular.
In “’We Want Yer, McKinley’: Epideictic Rhetoric in Songs from the 1896 Presidential Campaign,” William Harpine also noted that, ““Marching Through Georgia” seems to have had extensive appeal as a melody for campaign songs,” particularly in the 1896 election (79).
Although Harpine doesn’t note regional differences, I wonder whether the anti-Southern song was the most effective melody for a national campaign. In 1972, James Irvin and Walter Kirkpatrick argued that music’s rhetorical power came from both melodies and lyrics. They theorized that when familiar—and well-liked—melodies accompanied unfamiliar lyrics, the listener was primed to develop positive feelings toward the lyrics. In using the melody of a song that, in its original form, celebrated Sherman’s March to the Sea, campaigns in the Gilded Age may have—intentionally or unintentionally—alienated a whole region of voters.
Horace Greeley (song cover sheet, left) puts my point more succinctly in The Log-Cabin Songbook: “People like the swing of the music. After a song or two, they are more ready to listen to the orators” (quoted from Robert Gunderson, “Presidential Canvass, Log-Cabin Style,” Today’s Speech 5 (1957): 19). Or if they don’t “like the swing of music,” maybe they’re not “more ready to listen to the orators.”