The Electronic Election: Perspectives on the 1996 Campaign Communication

By Lynda Lee Kaid; Dianne G. Bystrom | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Metaphors in the 1996 Presidential Debates: An Analysis of Themes

Georgine Hodgkinson

Cosumnes River College

Chris M. Leland

Huntington College

On October 6 and 10, 1996, President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole met to debate issues facing the nation. First in Hartford, Connecticut, and then in San Diego, California, these presidential candidates seized an opportunity to battle for U.S. support. Yet these debates were a far cry from the battle zones of past debates. In fact, popular critics commented that the candidates "played it safe" and "risked little" in the debates ( Cooper, 1996, p. 34). Although the candidates were notably "polite" ( Fineman, 1996, p. 29), they did present differing rhetorical visions for the future of the United States.

Presidential debates are highly visible events that have the power to influence campaign communication. Although they offer candidates a platform to demonstrate skill and worth, many scholars argue that presidential debates are beneficial because they educate voters ( Chaffee, 1978; Friedenberg , 1990; Holbrook, 1996; Pfau, 1988). Critics have studied past presidential debates by examining the influence of candidate delivery style ( Berquist & Golden, 1981; Holbrook, 1996; Patterson, Churchill, Burger, & Powell, 1992), the impact of the media ( Tiemens, 1978), and the role of the audience ( Holbrook, 1996; Jamieson & Birdsell, 1988; Winkler & Black, 1993). This analysis focuses on the content of the 1996 presidential debates by exploring the use of metaphor in the candidates' debate rhetoric. Specifically, we explain how recurring themes of construction and tradition shaped the candidates' discourse, providing one more reason why Dole was unable to catch Clinton in the race for the presidency. We also examine stylistic

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