Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

The Political Is Personal: Analyzing the Presidential Primary Debate Performances of Hillary Clinton and Michele Bachmann

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

The Political Is Personal: Analyzing the Presidential Primary Debate Performances of Hillary Clinton and Michele Bachmann

Article excerpt

In 2012, Republican Michele Bachmann joined the long list of women who ran for U.S. President, but was only the third woman to debate in the party primaries. Four years prior, in 2008, Democrat Hillary Clinton spent a year in primary debates during her historic run for the presidency. To date, the United States has yet to elect a woman president, and subsequently there is currently no clear way to examine women's presidential rhetoric. However, in place of common rhetorical sites such as inaugural speeches and State of the Union addresses, women are able to perform presidentiality in a presidential primary campaign debate. Vancil and Pendell (1984) note that debate viewers may regard presidential debates as opportunities to "compare Presidential qualities of the candidates when they are under fire, in a situation which presumably simulates the pressured atmosphere of the White House" (p. 67). While issues are not unimportant, candidates must demonstrate good judgment on issues in addition to displaying wisdom, courage, leadership, honesty, and vision (Vancil & Pendell, 1984). In effect, the debate performance serves as the "job interview" for the office of United States President, as noted by Parry- Giles and Parry-Giles (1996), "Politics as an occupation serves as the primary institution used by the candidates to demonstrate their preparation for the presidency" (p. 343). The campaign debate is a prime job interview, as voters witness presidential contenders in a rare face- to-face setting.

Political rhetoric is laden with language, approaches, frames, and expectancies built on traditional political discourse that is dominated by male speakers and male-mediated norms (Bystrom, 2004). In light of overwhelming male political representation, Campbell's (1989) theory of feminine style was developed through analyses of historical rhetors responding to the unique constraints of an androcentric field. The traditional study of women's rhetoric has aimed to explicate rhetorical strategies used by feminist rhetors to gain access to traditional modes of political power, primarily suffrage (Dow & Tonn, 1993). Inspired by this framework, we examine presidential primary debate rhetoric. In effect, we argue that, in the primary debate setting, a traditional vision of the feminine or masculine styles does not exist. Instead, candidates appear to employ rhetorical strategies aligning with traditional visions of feminine and masculine style in order to respond to rhetorical constraints based both in gender and political expectations.

Although past women candidates Shirley Chisolm (in 1972) and Elizabeth Dole (in 1999) emerged prominently in their respective presidential races, it was not until 2004 that a female candidate, Carol Moseley-Braun, took the presidential primary debate stage. While presidential primary debates are not as gender diverse as non-presidential debates (e.g. Senate, gubernatorial), they have reached a new threshold in recent years, with the past four election cycles seeing women on the national debate stage. In light of these developments, scholars may now compare not only women candidates' rhetoric beyond the gubernatorial and Senate levels, but also compare rhetoric between women presidential candidates representing Democratic and Republican parties. As such, we respond to previous scholars' calls for more developed analysis on women in debate (Johnson, 2005; McKinney & Carlin, 2004) by comparing the performances of Michele Bachmann and Hillary Clinton. The following section will examine literature concerning the meaningful representation of women in debates, and the study's theoretical underpinnings. Finally, the research questions are presented prior to the full study and results.


Women Candidates in Presidential Primaries

Debating in presidential primaries is the closest women have come, to date, to performing presidentiality. Within these debates, women may face greater challenges relative to male candidates, given the prevalence of frames that place them outside the realm of presidentiality (Sheeler & Anderson, 2013). …

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