Creatures of Politics
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Message, politics, and character contests in US presidential elections

Read an excerpt from the book Listen to a Michigan Radio interview with Michael Lempert Available as an audio book on Audible

It's a common complaint that a presidential candidate's style matters more than substance and that the issues have been eclipsed by mass-media-fueled obsession with a candidate's every slip, gaffe, and peccadillo. This book explores political communication in American presidential politics, focusing on what political insiders call "message." Message, Michael Lempert and Michael Silverstein argue, is not simply an individual's positions on the issues but the craft used to fashion the creature the public sees as the candidate. Lempert and Silverstein examine some of the revelatory moments in debates, political ads, interviews, speeches, and talk shows to explain how these political creations come to have a life of their own. From the pandering "Flip-Flopper" to the self-reliant "Maverick," the authors demonstrate how these figures are fashioned out of the verbal, gestural, sartorial, behavioral—as well as linguistic—matter that comprises political communication.

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Introduction: Message is the Medium
2. Getting it Ju:::st Right
3. Addressing "The Issues"
4. Ethnoblooperology
5. Unflipping the Flop
6. The Message in Hand
7. What Goes Around. . .



Publié par
Date de parution 12 septembre 2012
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253007568
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0500€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Media, Message, and the American Presidency
Michael Lempert Michael Silverstein
Bloomington and Indianapolis
This book is a publication of
601 North Morton Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47404-3797 USA
Telephone orders 800-842-6796
Fax orders 812-855-7931
2012 by Michael Lempert and Michael Silverstein
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lempert, Michael.
Creatures of politics : media, message, and the American presidency / Michael Lempert and Michael Silverstein.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-253-00745-2 (cloth : alk. paper) - ISBN 978-0-253-00752-0 (pbk. : alk. paper) - ISBN 978-0-253-00756-8 (ebk.) 1. Communication in politics-United States. 2. Presidential candidates-United States-Language. 3. Rhetoric-Political aspects-United States. I. Silverstein, Michael, 1945- II. Title.
JA85.2.U6L46 2012
320.97301 4-dc23
1 2 3 4 5 17 16 15 14 13 12
Father of the Constitution, who, despite his best intentions, breathed life into creatures of politics .
This idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal is, I think, the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.
- ADLAI STEVENSON , at the 1956 Democratic National Convention
Preface and Acknowledgments
1 Introduction: Message Is the Medium
2 Getting It Ju st Right!
3 Addressing The Issues
4 Ethno-Blooperology
5 Unflipping the Flop
6 The Message in Hand
7 What Goes Around
In this book we bring together, adapt, and blend material we have been separately developing over the last decade. Mutually discovering that each of us has been following American electoral politics-particularly, American presidential politics-with a similarly attuned linguistic anthropological eye and ear has animated this collaborative effort.
Contemporary linguistic anthropology moves analytically in several concurrently applied ways. Trying to understand how a particular focal communicative event has had certain effects (even effectiveness in some social realm) inevitably leads the analyst to investigate the cultural values illustrated or frustrated by the key signals-verbal, gestural, behavioral, sartorial, and so on-that participants generate, as revealed in the transcribed record of the event. Generally this involves looking at any particular communicative event in a documented or putative trajectory of other events with which it can be associated for one or another reason-for example, an event and other events that report that the first event took place. (This last relationship is central to political news and commentary, of course.) We are concerned with matters of a politician s personal style against a backdrop of what appear to be normative expectations of how particular kinds of events should take place, and with the strategies and frames that license or animate the display of the stylistically distinctive.
In all of these chapters focusing on various creatures of politics, our concern is not merely to present a bestiary, mythical or real, as the case may be. Our concern is to explain, as anthropologists, the sense of how the central communicative mechanisms of American politics operate as institutional forms in that corner of the American sociocultural world shaped by processes of electoral politics. Needless to say, this is a field that has long been the analytic province of the rhetorician, the political scientist, the specialist in mass communications, and one where practitioners of the art keep materializing as its commentators, frequently in between gigs in practical service. However, we believe that our perspective on political communication, achieved via the lens of the how as distinct from the what of politicians communicative behavior, adds fresh insight into matters long treated differently as a matter of course.
In spring 2004, while the U.S. presidential campaign was in full swing, Michael Lempert was finishing his dissertation in linguistic anthropology on Tibetan Buddhist debate, a visually arresting educational practice, reestablished in the exile monasteries of India, in which monks wrangle about the niceties of philosophical doctrine. Brash monk-challengers hurl invectives and punctuate their points with hand claps that explode in the direction of the seated defendant s face. These over-the-top histrionics fascinated Lempert: one had to contemplate a kind of argumentation that is much more than a sober, if competitive, exercise in linking premises to a conclusion. But it turns out that Tibetans in exile were themselves busy reflecting on this style of argumentation, trying to square it with liberal-democratic ideals of clear, civil, rational communication-ideals that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile have been eager to adopt. Lempert sensed parallels between these reflexive debates over debate and complaints at home about the purportedly impoverished state of communication in and around electoral politics: that The Issues were chronically neglected; that the televised primary and presidential debates were mere theater, privileging style over substance.
And then there was the matter of George W. Bush, in whose speech many could hear, from this normative perspective, only deficiency. By 2004 his malapropisms and gaffes had already accumulated into an impressive archive of Bushisms. But this didn t begin to explain why it was that so many people thought his communicative style was appealing. Lempert found his explanation in a slim volume by Michael Silverstein, Talking Politics: The Substance of Style from Abe to W (2003a), which extended methods and theories from linguistic anthropology to the domain of political communication. Inspired by Silverstein s work, and by a few effective forays into electoral politics by other linguistic anthropologists, such as Jane Hill and Asif Agha, Lempert began to write essays in a similar spirit, his special interest being the manner in which debates serve as sites for what are in effect presidential character contests.
Michael Silverstein had been researching the semiotics of ritual performance, and in particular political ritual, since the 1970s. In 1998 he began to use this approach to analyze the text and ritual occasion of Abraham Lincoln s 1863 remarks at Gettysburg, Franklin Roosevelt s Fireside Chats of the 1930s, and John Kennedy s inaugural of 1961, among other presidential moments. Around the period of the 2000 electoral cycle, the particular communicative style of first candidate then president George W. Bush became a focus of interest in relation to the sociolinguistics of the phenomenon termed register in American English. Stylistically contrasting Lincoln and Bush as political communicators became the theme of that little book, Talking Politics , commissioned by Marshall Sahlins for his Prickly Paradigm Press series. (It is freely downloadable as a pdf file at the press s website.) By the time the presidential electoral cycles of 2004 and 2008 were upon us, Silverstein had been invited many, many times to address both general and specialist audiences with linguistic anthropological commentary; several of the accompanying chapters emerged as reshaped records of those occasions. He is very grateful both to his sponsoring hosts and to the lively, interlocutory audiences-really, communicational addressees-on those occasions. One piece here, What Goes Around , began, thanks to Professor John MacAloon, as an annually delivered lecture in the introductory course in the University of Chicago s Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences, where Silverstein undertook to explain and illustrate symbolic interactionism, as it is termed in the field of sociology. The point is that its viable continuator at the present time is the linguistic anthropology of events. The piece is also an homage to our late, much-missed friend Erving Goffman, one of the great masters of symbolic interactionism, whose unerring eye for the interactional grotesque alighted on the very event at the center of chapter 7 .
Several of the chapters that follow originated in invited presentations, acknowledgments for which are recorded in their original print form. To those who facilitated and shaped their later print appearance in earlier published form-photographers, cartoonists, journal editors, and anonymous reviewers-we offer many thanks. And to the editors and publishers of the earlier versions, thanks again for their cooperation in our enterprise of rewriting and adapting them as chapters of this book. Each of us has originated three chapters and we have jointly produced the introductory one. Hence, overall authorship is listed alphabetically.
Chapter 2 , Getting it Ju st Right! reworks material in two essays by Michael Silverstein: The Poetics of Politics: Theirs and Ours (2005b) and The Message in the (Political) Batt

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