The Winning Message: Candidate Behavior, Campaign Discourse, and Democracy

By Adam F. Simon | Go to book overview
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Dialogue: A Standard for Campaign Discourse

In this chapter, I present an argument for the use of dialogue as a normative standard to evaluate the quality of political campaigns. The argument relies on an ideal for candidate behavior derived from claims advanced by theorists, especially Habermas, in examinations of public discourse. (To preview, chapters three and four outline a theory of candidate message selection that describes actual candidate behavior. ) This discussion develops two themes: first, that campaign practices can be subjected to normative evaluation and second, that the legitimacy of public decisions with respect to a particular theme requires a give and take in public discourse pertaining to that theme. I conclude by discussing dialogue, noting that the presence of dialogue would entail a shift away from the less beneficial communication driven by self-interested candidates toward a more constructive discourse that I liken to a political conversation. I begin with some observers who have remarked on the absence of dialogue in political campaigns.

Pundits have routinely condemned the state of public campaigning since the founding of the United States. Perhaps the greatest burst of criticism occurred following the advent of television broadcasting when Kelley (1960) authored the first comprehensive review of campaign discourse. He began by saying, “the character of political campaigns in the United States has been a continuing source of dissatisfaction to friendly students of American political life” (Kelley 1960, p. 1). His statement of the problem was pithy: “the discussion found in campaigns tends to impair the judgment of the electorate and to upset the formulation of coherent public policies” (Kelley 1960, p. 2). If anything, the situation has worsened in the ensuing years. Aside from an ever-present stream of criticism and schemes for reform, the lack of campaign substance is


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The Winning Message: Candidate Behavior, Campaign Discourse, and Democracy


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