Archive for the ‘1968-2008 Campaigns’ Category

By Carrie Zambrano–Relating to the People, 1992

The 1992 election was notable for several reasons. First, the incumbent president, George H.W. Bush was running for re-election. Most presidents in his position face little opposition. But Bush received push back from some of his fellow conservatives after he famously pledged not to raise taxes in a speech he made during his first campaign in 1988. In addition, the economy was in a recession and his strength in foreign policy became less important due to the end of the Cold War and the defeat of Iraq in the Gulf War. Secondly, the third party candidate, Ross Perot was a leading candidate. He self-funded his own campaign and ran as a one-issue candidate, focusing on the deficit. Although he was popular, he lost momentum after he dropped out and then eventually re-entered the race. Ultimately, Perot garnered 19% of the vote, which was uncommon for a third party candidate. Lastly, Bill Clinton, the Democratic nominee, won the election, ending twelve years of Republican control. This was the third time in the twentieth century that a sitting president did not get re-elected. Clinton ran his campaign with a new Democratic ideology which allowed him to relate to a wide range of people. Clinton’s ability to relate to the American people is what ultimately won him the presidency.

The ability for a presidential candidate to relate to the citizens of the United States has always been crucial in order to gain votes. During the 1992 election, this was one of the key differences that separated Bush and Clinton. And throughout the campaign we see several rhetorical examples in which this difference is displayed. One of the most notable rhetorical examples of this can be seen towards the end of the second town hall debate. During this debate, a woman stood up and asked the candidates, “How has the national debt personally affected you?” Bush answered first, giving a very unrelatable response, stating that, “I’m sure it has.” He went on to say how as president he has seen people struggle and that he wants to help by stimulating the economy but avoided answering until the woman asked the question again. Bush then responded saying how “it’s not fair to say you can’t be affected because you haven’t been hit personally.” This statement shows that he is practically admitting to the fact that he does not know exactly how it is like to be affected by the economy. In addition, his tone seemed defensive and insensitive. Clinton responded to the question second. Immediately, the tone is different. He appears to be more caring and concerned. Although he, too, did not directly address how he was personally affected, the quality of this response made him more relatable.  He finished by saying, “we need to bring the American people together.”

Another notable rhetorical moment is Bill Clinton’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. This speech further exemplifies Clinton’s desire to want to relate to the American people and bring everyone together. His fifty three minute speech is filled with messages of hope, change, and unity. He begins by accepting the nomination on behalf of “all those who do the work, pay the taxes, raise the kids and play by the rules — in the name of the hard-working Americans who make up our forgotten middle class.” He goes on to say, “I am a product of the middle class and when I am president you will be forgotten no more.” These words allow him to really relate to a majority of Americans on an economic level. Clinton then moves on to salute the collapse of the Soviet Union and the official end to the Cold War. He wants to see the success America has accomplished abroad, at home. He says, “Now that we have changed the world, it’s time to change America”. He continues to try and relate to the people on a personal level by sharing emotional stories of his mother and father and how he grew up in Hope, Arkansas. He makes a particular well known statement in regards to his mother, “You want to know where I get my fighting spirit? It all started with my mother. Thank you, Mother. I love you,“ Clinton said. Clinton had been vocal about women’s equality in the workplace and in regards to health care and his statement showed where his stance on women’s issues originated. One of the final most notable parts of the speech is when Clinton is discussing the current government. He says, “Frankly, I’m fed up with politicians in Washington lecturing the rest of us about family values. Our families have values but our government doesn’t.” Clinton is tired of the current system and wants to see a change. His comments sparked applause from the audience, who were agreeing with his messages. Ultimately, Clinton wanted to let people know that he is serious about change and that he wants to focus on the economy and other issues that were not addressed in the previous administration.



“1992 Presidential Election.” 1992 Presidential Election – Timeline – Slaying the Dragon of Debt – Regional Oral History Office – University of California, Berkeley. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.

Levy, Michael. “United States Presidential Election of 1992.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.

“Transcript of Speech by Clinton Accepting Democratic Nomination.” The New York Times, 16 July 1992. Web. 09 May 2017.



By Joey Williams–2008 Presidential Election

The presidential election of 2008 was a historic election for the United States. While then-senator Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected as president of the United States, Joe Biden represented the first Roman Catholic to hold the office of Vice President. To get there, Obama first defeated Hillary Clinton in one of the most tightly contested primary elections in history. Although Clinton was long considered the frontrunner for the race, Obama won Iowa and gained momentum from there. After losing Iowa, the Clinton team was unprepared to recover and Obama continued to upset her in key elections. In June, after Obama secured the nomination to end a close race, Clinton delayed conceding the race by multiple days even though it was clear she knew it was over. When she finally conceded on June 7, 2008, she pledged her full support toward Obama, and would later accept a position as his Secretary of State. Although she lost the election, Clinton made history as the first woman in U.S. history to win a major political party primary election by winning the New Hampshire primary.

Upon winning the primary, Obama matched up against Senator John McCain in the general election. To match the historical ticket of Obama and Biden, McCain nominated Sarah Palin as his candidate for Vice President. Palin, the first woman ever on a Republican presidential ballot, had political experience as the Governor of Alaska from 2006-2009. Palin quickly grew a reputation of being dim-witted and unfit for office. Additionally, due to McCain’s age, many people complained about the possibility of Palin replacing him in office. Largely due to the historical implications of the election, voter turnout increased from previous elections. The demographic splits reflected the 25-year age difference between the two candidates, with Obama getting a significant majority of young voters and McCain getting the elderly vote. In a decisive victory, Obama received 365 electoral votes compared to McCain’s 173.

In the years leading up to the election, the United States waged a divisive war in Iraq. So, of course, during the 2008 election cycle, the war was one of the top issues that the candidates debated. John McCain supported the war from the beginning and continued to assert it was an important war. Obama, on the other hand, rejected the war from the beginning and maintained that there should be a timetable for the removal of all troops. This was a fair representation of the rhetorical strategies of the two candidates. John McCain’s campaign had a central theme of “fight” and “experience.” As he said in one of his TV ads, “one man does what’s best for America, not what’s easy.” Additionally, in response to the high likeability that Barack Obama had, McCain stated, “I didn’t go to Washington to win Mr. Congeniality, I went there to serve my country.” McCain’s main slogan was “country first.” Obama, on the other hand, took a more radical approach, using “Change” and “Yes We Can” as his main slogans.

Due to the economic recession of 2008, Obama’s “change” slogan was a very important part of his campaign. Many people were in difficult living situations due to the high unemployment levels, and a man who preaches drastic change was exactly the right person to garner national support. Additionally, Obama became known for his unwavering positivity about our country’s future. At a time when things seemed bleak for so many, maintaining a positive image of America allowed Obama to win over many undecided voters. Because of Obama maintained such a positive and likeable public persona, McCain took to regularly questioning his record VS. rhetoric. “He’s not willing to drill for energy, but he’s sure willing to drill for votes,” Sarah Palin exclaimed to a group of supporters in Pennsylvania. In the same speech, she referred to Obama as “a guy who’s just tried to talk his way into the White House.”

In addition to the economic and national security issues of the time, race played a large role in the election of 2008. Although Obama was the first African American nominated by a major U.S. party, he restrained from playing the race card throughout the election. This was mainly met with respect by the American people. Of course, to many racists in the country, an African American being an election away from holding the highest office in the country was very threatening. At many McCain rallies, racist chants were hurled toward the stage in support of the white candidate. While this was going on, McCain initially took the respectable approach of condemning racist supporters. In one incident, one woman told McCain at a rally that she was afraid of Obama because he is “an Arab.” Senator McCain, taking the high road, repeatedly shook his head and replied “no ma’am. He’s a decent, family man citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.” While he took this approach early, McCain fell off a little bit as he fell behind in the race. As Obama pulled ahead, McCain backed off from silencing his racist supporters.

Ultimately, Barack Obama entered the 2008 election prepared for the racial attacks he would get. Like Hillary Clinton’s gender in 2016, Obama knew that his race would play a role in how he was perceived. Instead of crumbling under the unfair expectation, Obama confidently and calmly carried himself to victory. While John McCain did not make any major mistakes, America wanted change and Barack Obama seemed to live and breathe it.


By Hannah Richardson–“Are You Better Off than You Were Four Years Ago?”–1980

The election of 1980 was a landslide win for the Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan. He ran against the Democratic incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, an Independent Illinois Congressman, John B. Anderson, and Libertarian candidate, Ed Clark. Ronald Reagan was the former Governor of California. He also had a successful career as an actor in Hollywood. President Carter was elected in 1977 as the 39th President of the United States. Prior to becoming President, Carter served as the Governor of Georgia and was a member of the Georgia Senate. John B. Anderson had enough popularity that he was considered a solid candidate but ended up receiving no electoral votes and 6.6% of the popular vote. There were several factors that influenced the outcome of the 1980 election but one critical moment was the Presidential debate of 1980 between Governor Reagan and President Carter. This debate coupled with the optimism of Reagan’s campaign and the attacks from Carter’s campaign are major factors that influenced the outcome of the election.

The debates for this election cycle had a rocky start. For the first debate, the League of Women Voters announced that Rep. Anderson would join Governor Reagan and President Carter on stage. Carter refused to participate with Rep. Anderson included and Reagan refused to debate without him. After several negotiations, the League of Women Voters put together a debate that was held on September 21, 1980 in the Baltimore Convention Center. The debate covered several issues and polls after the debate indicated that Governor Reagan had won the debate. In this debate Reagan used the phrase, “there you go again,” in response to an attack Carter was making against him. This had a surprisingly big impact on the debate. Governor Reagan used this phrase to disarm Carter and threw him off his offense. The line became very popular and was used in newspaper headlines and news broadcasts.  Another major sound bite from the debate was when Governor Reagan asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” In the debate, he said:

Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago?

This idea was a major theme of Reagan’s campaign and was even used as a campaign slogan. Governor Reagan argued that the Carter Administration had not been successful and that he would bring change. The debate was just a week before the election and Governor Reagan’s statement was a final blow against President Carter. Both candidates heavily focused on the image of the last four years. President Carter spent a great deal of time trying to convince the American people that his last four years had been successful whereas Governor Reagan tried to show the downfalls of the current administration. This is largely shown through each candidate’s television advertisements.

President Carter worked hard to try to show that his time in office had been successful and that he deserved to stay. He put out advertisements showing things he had accomplished but also spent a lot of time attacking Governor Reagan. One example of his attempt to diminish Governor Reagan was his advertisement, “Streetgov,” where the campaign interviewed citizens of California who all said they were not happy with Reagan as a leader. President Carter received a lot of backlash for running a campaign that was so focused on attacking his opponent. Many people believed this was a tactic of President Carter’s. By drawing attention to his attacks on Governor Reagan he was taking attention away from the diminishing economy. A cartoonist named Jeff MacNelly depicted this in a cartoon that was published in October of 1980 in the Chicago Tribune. He depicts Carter driving a train that has clearly crashed and is labeled “Economy.” He is the driver and he is saying “Not to change the subject or anything but did you know Reagan is a hate-mongering racist?” President Carter’s attacks became a major focus in the election. To refute the attacks, the Reagan Campaign did something new. They had Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan’s wife, narrate an advertisement refuting the attacks that President Carter made against Governor Reagan. It was an attack ad made to look like a spouse defending her husband. The advertisement stuck to the theme that was to show the people that President Carter had not been a good president and that Governor Reagan would bring change and optimism. This strategic move worked in Governor Reagan’s favor. It did both, validate the American people who thought Carter’s campaign was being overly attacking and promote the idea that change was needed.

The election was held on November 4, 1980, where Ronald Reagan was elected president receiving 489 electoral votes and 50.7% of the popular vote. For the first time since 1952, Republicans had gained control of the Senate. There were several additional issues that impacted the election, including the Iranian hostage crisis. The Iran hostage crisis loomed over President Carter’s chances of reelection. In November 1979, 50 Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. For the year leading up to the election, President Carter was seen as unable to solve the problem and get the hostages safely released. This was a major issues that Governor Reagan worked with to help discredit his opponent. The hostages were released on January 21, 1981, after President Reagan delivered his inaugural address. Reagan was able to make Carter appear weak between the presidential debate and his rebuttal against Carter’s attacks through his own advertisements. Though President Reagan won in a landslide it is important to note that there was a lot of scandal surrounding his candidacy. A major scandal that some argue could have had a big impact on the election was the fact that some of Governor Reagan’s aides had the notes for the 1980 debate from Carter’s campaign. Because the debate had such an impact on the election it can be argued that it could have won Reagan the election and had he not have had access to some of Carter’s notes he may not have done as well. Reagan’s win was assisted by the events surrounding the Iran Hostage Crisis and the worsening economy. President Reagan was credited with the release of the hostages and went on to serve a second term.

By Lauren Harris–‘Maverick, No More’: McCain’s Struggle to Rise above Bush’s Unpopular Legacy

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.

Harris McCain CartoonGeorge 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.

Harris McCain BumperDespite 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,
James Gerber, “McCain: I’m Not Bush III,” ABC, June 3, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014,
Jeffrey F. Jones, “Americans Worry McCain Would Be Too Similar to Bush,” USA Today/Gallup, July 1, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014,
Barack Obama, “Remarks in Charleston, West Virginia: ‘The Cost of War,’” The White House, March 20, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014,
Michael Cooper, “McCain Distances Himself from Bush and Jabs Obama,” New York Times, June 4, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014,


Freckles Cassie, “George W. Bush,” Political Teen Tidbits, March 09, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014,
Oliver, “Troop Elections—From Oliver’s Blog,” Troop 90, September 30, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014,

Categories: 2008 Campaign

By Winnie Okafor–Misogyny in the 2008 Presidential Campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton

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 [1]. 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” [2].

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…” [3] 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.

Okafor HRC

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” [4]. 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” [6]. 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” [6].

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.

[1] Graham, Nicholas. “Sexist Hecklers Interrupt Hillary: “Iron My Shirt!”” The Huffington Post. 07 January 2008.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Clinton, Hillary. “Hillary Clinton Endorses Barack Obama.” The New York Times. 07 June 2008.
[4] Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. Men and Women of the Corporation. New York: Basic, 1977.
[5] Givhan, Robin. “Hillary Clinton’s Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory.” Washington Post. 20 July 2007.
[6] Cocco, Marie. “Misogyny I Won’t Miss.” Washington Post. 15 May 2008.

Categories: 2008 Campaign

By Rebecca Alt–Party Pandemonium: Hubert Humphrey’s Losing Rhetoric in the 1968 Election

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.

Alt Humphrey 1Like 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. [1] 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.” [2]. 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?” [3] Although all three of the candidates experienced serious heckling on the campaign trail, Gordon Bennett argues that Humphrey’s hecklers heckled Humphrey the worst. [4] 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.

Convention Chaos

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.” [5] 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.” [6] Meanwhile, in Miami at the Republican National Convention, all was peaceful on the Nixon front.

Alt Humphrey 2Before 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. [7]

As Robert Nordvold reminds in his article, Humphrey’s immediate rhetorical constraint was delivering this address “to the dissent and riot-torn convention.” [8] 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.” [9] 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.” [10] 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.” [11] Nordvold goes as far to argue “in short, he solved the problems confronting him by avoiding them.” [12] 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. [13]

Alt Humphrey 3Without 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.

He continues:

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?

[1] 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.

[2] Gordon C. Bennett, “The heckler and the heckled in the presidential campaign of 1968.” Communication Quarterly 27, no. 2 (1979): 28-37.

[3] Ibid. Hubert Humphrey was the only candidate not to enter any of the primaries, which was why the signs read as such.

[4] Ibid

[5] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 8th ed., s.v. “United States presidential election of 1968.” Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014.

[6] Bernard Brock, “1968 Democratic Campaign: A Political Upheaval.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 55, no. 1 (1969): 26-35.

[7] Judith S. Trent and Robert V. Friedenbert, Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practices 2nd Edition. New York: Praeger (1991), 183-189.

[8] 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.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid

[13] 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, Also, YouTube:


Riot photo from Chicago Tribune files.

Heckler cartoon:

Humphrey speaking:

Interesting Reference: 1968 Democratic Party Platform



Categories: 1968 Campaign

By Will Howell–Comedy and Campaigning, 1931 & 2008

On May 7, 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain made his thirteenth appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. McCain had previously run for president (in 2000), but his appearances were unrelated to his previous candidacy: rather, McCain’s affinity for The Daily Show (and vice versa) grew from McCain’s advocacy for campaign finance reform. As a strong supporter of campaign finance reform, Jon Stewart was more than willing to provide Senator McCain a venue to inform the public about his work.

McCain’s many appearances–and particularly this appearance amidst the escalating presidential election—call to mind a historical parallel from October, 1931. President Herbert Hoover, up for reelection one year later, presided over a deepening economic depression. The conservative president turned to the private sector to revive the economy (and, consequently, his chances for reelection) by creating POUR: the President’s Organization on Unemployment Relief.

Perhaps Hoover didn’t recognize the tragic irony of calling this organization POUR, but he knew how to boost its success. He asked popular comedian Will Rogers to appear on the radio with him to promote the program.

Roger’s brief remarks—dubbed “Bacon and Beans and Limousines”—are found below. John McCain’s interview on The Daily Show is available here.

I don’t want to belabor the content of either broadcast, but rather to raise some points of comparison.

In both situations, the comedians (to use Peter M. Robinson’s excellent phrasing) “dominated the middle ground between the people and the president” (or presidential candidate, in the case of McCain). In his book, Robinson traces how this domination solidified over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but it’s always been there. From Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley columns to Will Roger’s Letters of a Self-Made Diplomat to His President, from Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford impression to Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, comedians have helped us evaluate our presidents—and given us standards by which we might judge presidential candidates.

In 1931, the politician asked the comedian to help him advocate for a policy; in 2008, the comedian invited the politician. While acknowledging the constant “mediator” role comedians play, it’s also important to acknowledge that the tables have turned somewhat. Fey’s impression has been cited by several scholars and many cultural critics as a contributing factor to Sarah Palin’s public unraveling, and appearing on The Daily Show was a rite of passage for nearly all of the Republican and Democratic candidates who sought to succeed George W. Bush in the 2008 presidential campaign. Right or wrong, American citizens seem to have ceded a great deal of vetting power to comedians.

In 1931, all radio stations carried the politician and comedian’s address; in 2008, the comedian and the politician addressed only a segment of the population who paid to see them. There are three points I wish to make here. First, changing technologies now allow us to see the comedian sitting next to the president. I’d argue that this is a stronger validation of the comedian’s political contribution than hearing his/her voice in tandem with the president/presidential candidate. That being said, it doesn’t carry as much weight if fewer people see it. Perhaps McCain said something insightful, or important for citizens to know as they evaluated his candidacy, when he appeared on The Daily Show…but unless citizens seek it out, its civic contribution is diminished. I am one of those who ’don’t have cable, meaning I’d need to go online to watch the interview; I’d need to make an affirmative decision, and then take steps, to watch it. This leads to a final point: comedians increasingly play to specific audiences. Will Rogers played to everybody, as did Bob Hope, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, and the other radio comedy greats. This obviously relates to the broadcast technology they used, but the outcome is what’s important. They did political material alongside jokes about their pets, and their stupid neighbors. Because cable enables narrowcast audiences, comedians in that medium can rule out certain types of material. Coupled with broadcast networks’ concerns about political comedy emerging from the Vietnam War era, this has contributed to a walling-off of political comedy.

Some food for thought while you listen/watch and compare these two broadcasts. There are obviously other points of comparison, and I invite you to both engage my points and note what comparisons you see in your comments.