Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Going Public

"going public" is a political science concept used to describe the instances when a US president speaks directly to his constituents about an issue,and asks them to support a particular position as a means of bypassing the congress to pass a bill. in other words, going public is a presidential strategy for getting something passed, used most commonly when congress is gridlocked or unwilling to compromise.

a convergence of 2 phenomena have made it so this current president has gone public more than any other before him. these phenomena are situational, such as 1. a hyper-divded congress and 2. technological, such as advances in mass communication that open up a slew of avenues for the president to directly contact constituents. im going to skip over the divided/gridlocked congress and focus on the second phenomenon--technology.

before the 1940s, instances of "going public" were rare. the most common form was as formal public addresses, such as state of the union addresses, or inaugural addresses. when FDR started giving "fire side chats," which were radio addresses to the public, the concept of "going public" as a means of directly contacting constituents with a message was revolutionary. few presidents had done so as fervently, and with such geographic reach, as FDR with the fireside chats.

the timidity of other presidents to go public reflected what was an established environment in Washington for getting support for policies, and bills passed; this was an environment of seniority, reciprocity, and bargaining. if these norms were violated, the established environment would fail to function properly.

yet the "old" environment is now just that--old. and going public is now more definitely the norm, ushered in by particular presidents' and their preferences for working with the public, and getting public support, and, yes, technology.

first, a president's personality needs to be of the type that is willing and able to "go public." but second, the technology has to be available. before FDR, presidents may have been able to speak directly with the public (andrew jackson, for example, is notorious for being the "people's president"), but without the vehicle to transport the message, it was impossible.

speaking of vehicles, literally, transportation has also made going public increasingly more popular. the ease with which trains, and now airplanes, are able to move presidents around enables them to go public more often, and informally, with public appearances or political travel.

beyond transportation, advances in mass communication have made it more and more possible for presidents to bring their messages directly to the public. in the 1950s only 9 percent of homes had televisions. By 1960, when Kennedy and Nixon famously took part in the first televised presidential debates, over 85 percent of households had televisions.

not only do more homes have televisions today, but they also have more channels and choices. this can actually work against presidents or presidential candidates who want to bring their messages to the public. while in the 70s and 80s, the major broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) all agreed to clear the airwaves for a presidential message, debate, or nominating convention, the broadcast networks are less likely to do so now, because they know they will lose politically uninterested viewers to the cable channels.

to combat the changing dynamics of tv networks and increases in viewer options, presidents and presidential candidates of the modern era now routinely take to entertainment television talk shows to bring their messages to the people. when then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton went on the Arsenio Hall Show to play the saxophone, that a presidential candidate would appear on an entertainment talk show to connect with viewers was novel and radical (radical dude!).

now presidents and presidential candidates routinely appear on cable entertainment news shows. stephen colbert, for example, is not shy to mention how an appearance on his show elicits the "colbert bump" which describes the bump in popularity a person/band/movie receives after an appearance on his show. i remember watching Mike Huckabee on the Colbert Report--he was very funny, personable--it worked! i was wooed! even today i still have some warm feelings toward the man that stem from that lighthearted and fun interview.

but beyond tv appearances on broadcast and cable, new media has enabled presidents to contact constituents directly, and often. Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube are all viable forms of communication for presidents to contact their constituents. President Obama has a weekly Youtube Address where he broadcasts a new message each week, almost always faulting congress for something, and asking constituents to contact their representative with a message in support of the president's plans.

the underlying assumption that is made by presidents, i presume, is that going public actually works and has an effect. this brings to mind some of the scholarship i've read (though i need to update myself on it) by Matthew Baum, professor of political science at Harvard. much of his research is on the affects of "soft news," which is defined as entertainment news shows' political coverage, which rarely focuses on the "hard" substance of politics. the audiences that watch entertainment televisions shows are usually younger, more likely to be female, and slightly more liberal--though largely uninterested in politics. Baum finds that appearances by politicians on these shows can actually have a positive effect, especially on individuals who are less aware, politically, over all. this is because with little else to base their opinion on, a usually friendly, happy appearance by a politician on a show like Kelly and Michael Live!, will leave a viewer with a positive one. less affected are those ho are more political aware, and more ideological. but if candidate want to find those who are uninterested, and less likely to vote, and try and turn them out? entertainment tv shows are a good place to start.

pretty soon we will start to see Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls showing up on our tv screens, and tweeting more often, as a sure sign that campaign season is upon us. the upcoming election will feature 2 open seats, and so a myriad of candidates from both parties will be throwing in their hats. i hope they can at least wait until after the next midterm election, although i do find presidential campaigns to be majorly entertaining.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the new work digs

i have now been a full-fledged member of the academic community at CSUSB for just over a month, and things are going great.

i am teaching The Presidency course 2 days a week, and otherwise working on a book.! i've heard from a number of academics, especially in my field (political science) that a book is not a requirement, especially if one is able to publish in good journals, but its always been a goal of mine to write a book, and the topic of interest (gender and the American presidency) isn't going to get any hotter than it is now, in the lead up to what may be the first competitive female nomination by a major party (TBD). more on that in future posts.

but i thought i'd showcasing my new campus digs, where i spend at least half of my week! it truly is a beautiful university, and i am so happy to be in southern california (it was 90 degrees today!).

this was taken on a Friday, when the campus is pretty quiet. that white building in the back is my college's home--the college of social and behavioral sciences

in my office, making the disappointed face as i realize i need a lot more books to fill my shelves and be truly professorial! 

faculty id card! and i dont look like a serial killer, SUCCESS!