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Analysis: The Theater of Politics

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Cynthia Hara, Sports Editor

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“[Blank] approves this message.” This hackneyed phrase is almost comical now, juxtaposed against accusations and insults between the two presidential candidates Obama and Romney. This year these candidates have been playing dirty, and not unlike The Hunger Games, everyone’s watching this deathmatch.

The recent national conventions were full of jokes and jabs at the opposing parties, slandering each other to win votes from potential voters.

However, this slightly decreases the amount of information they provide for viewers.

Senior Maya Kaul said, “I find [conventions] partially factual, but more than anything else, they are to get attention for the political party.”

Even celebrities get called to the podium. Some of the notable speeches were from Clint Eastwood and Kal Penn [Harold and Kumar]. Eastwood’s speech infamously involved a fake interview with an empty chair. He held the rambling interview with the “Invisible Obama” with the sole intent of ridiculing our President.

Eastwood, while a great actor and director, offered a wildly incoherent and inappropriate speech, scrutinized by many as damaging to Romney’s chances. In an imaginary conversation with Obama, Eastwood joked, “I can’t tell Romney to do that to himself.”

This crude remark was representative of the general sentiment of Republicans toward Obama, being under the impression that Obama would be so offensive. Obviously the Democrats have had their fair share of smack talk, but the point is clear.

Alexa Westlake, freshman, said, “I dislike the celebrities’ speeches a lot. It’s not that I don’t like what they’re saying–I just think they are very scripted and [the political parties] need a face to go with their beliefs. Not always do those people believe in what they’re talking about, which is why they can’t hit as hard as some of the politicians that know what they believe.”

As if to counterbalance the negativity, the candidates have both opted for an emotional touch, too.

Ann Romney recalled her and Mitt’s first few years of marriage. “I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage.’ Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or Breast Cancer.”

She created an image of the “1950s version of America where the dad works, the mom stays at home, there are five children, and they occasionally take a vacation together when the dad can get away,” said political science professor Steffen Schmidt of Iowa State University.

This conventional “housewife” image starkly contrasts Michelle Obama’s depiction of the modern, working American woman.

“We need the women, and the women are behind the fi rst lady,” said Brenda Wilkins, a front-row seated business owner at the Democratic Convention.

Michelle Obama drew tears from the crowd when she spoke of her and her husband’s history together.

“He was still the guy who’d picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by through a hole in the passenger side door,” Michelle said.

“When people ask me whether being in the White House has changed my husband, I can honestly say that when it comes to his character, and his convictions, and his heart, Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago.”

Both wives created a huge impact on viewers and fellow party members present at the convention, influencing the female, typically mom, voters.

Unfortunately, with all the spotlight on the guest speakers, there has been less incentive for presidents to present an outstanding speech.

On Mitt Romney’s speech, “This was a solid speech. This was a good speech. This was not a great speech,” said Brit Hume, Republican commentator.

Barack Obama got his fair share of critique, as Roland Martin, CNN reporter, said, “[Bill Clinton] cut through the predictable partisan spin by making a credible and compelling case for Barack Obama’s re-election–better, frankly, than the president has made himself to date.”

Overall, the conventions have been seen as more entertaining than factual, in terms of giving voters and viewers a sense of what candidates’ beliefs are.

“Presidents aren’t going to say something radical… to get elected. Most often they’re saying what we want to hear, and they’re telling us what they want to do, not what they’re going to do,” Westlake said.

“They’re great at ‘America, America, America!’ and really emphasizing the middle class. And it really helped when they needed people to clap and cheer and be excited for America, which is why I think these presidential conventions are not all about issues but more about whipping the crowds into frenzies and telling them ‘vote for us.’”

With so much emphasis on “images” of how the American public sees their candidates, maybe it is time to actually put some meat in those campaigns.

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Analysis: The Theater of Politics