Inside the Beltway: The ebbing charm

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The linguistic anthropologists have spoken: the 2012 presidential election is now dominated by image and strategic branding, thanks to celebrity-driven culture and a public taste for “predatory” voyeurism. And the issues? They’re lost in the welter of creative candidate packaging.

“It’s really the ‘TMZ-ization’ of politics,” observes Michael Lempert, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, referring to the Hollywood gossip show. “Electoral politics has always involved presenting a publicly imaginable character to the electorate. But today’s communications technologies and the rise of professional consultancy and political marketing have amplified the illusion to be real, or to be seen as being real.”

“The message is an all-encompassing collage of impressions, including the image politicians project with their personal style and language,” says Michael Silverstein, an anthropology professor at the University of Chicago who also says the candidates take their cues from celebrities.

The pair have enough material for a new book: “Creatures of Politics: Media, Message and the American Presidency,” just published by the Indiana University Press.

POLL DU JOUR

• 16 percent of U.S. voters say Mitt Romney’s “greatest strength” is his business acumen; 28 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats agree.

• 11 percent of voters overall say President Obama’s greatest strength is his ability as a communicator; 20 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats agree.

• 11 percent overall say Mr. Romney’s economic policies are his second greatest strength; 19 percent of Republicans and 3 percent of Democrats agree.

• 10 percent overall say Mr. Obama’s interest in helping the less fortunate is his second greatest strength; 2 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of Democrats agree.

• 5 percent overall say new ideas are Mr. Romney’s third greatest strength; 19 percent of Republicans and 3 percent of Democrats agree.

• 7 percent overall say Mr. Obama’s personality are his third greatest strength; 9 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Gallup poll of 1,066 registered voters asked for “open-ended responses” Oct. 22-23. See the complete list here: www.gallup.com

Murmurs and asides to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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