"I'm In!": Hillary Clinton's 2008 Democratic Primary Campaign on YouTube

By Davisson, Amber | Journal of Visual Literacy, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

"I'm In!": Hillary Clinton's 2008 Democratic Primary Campaign on YouTube


Davisson, Amber, Journal of Visual Literacy


Campaign on YouTube

In January of 2007, when New York Senator Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for president, she said she was "In it to win it." Clinton was far from being the first female candidate to seek the White House, but she was one of the first female candidates to voice a very real expectation that she could win (Kunin, 2008). In the past, female candidates "wanted to push the conversation forward, make it easier for the next woman, but they never expected to be elected" (Kunin, 2008, p. 165). For a while, in 2007, it seemed like being elected was a very real possibility; some were even calling Clinton's victory inevitable (Chait, 2007). In the Democratic Primary, Clinton received 17,267,658 votes, only 166,000 votes less than the victor, Barack Obama, and more votes than any candidate had received in any U.S. primary prior to 2008 (Cillizza, 2008). Throughout the race the Clinton campaign used digital communication tools such as blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace to communicate the candidate's political platform and develop her online persona. Hillary Clinton posted 353 videos to YouTube[TM] during her 18-month campaign and continued to post videos after she lost the primary. YouTube[TM] allowed Clinton to take her message directly to the voters, rather than simply relying on the sound bites chosen by mainstream media news outlets. This essay considers the speech genres used in three of the campaign's videos in order to understand how the technology on the YouTube[TM] site socialized the candidate's speech and influenced citizens' interpretations of the campaign.

As a presidential candidate, Clinton is fascinating, because her entire political career can be cast as a struggle to be politically powerful while responding to constant attacks regarding her performance of femininity. In an analysis of political cartoons depicting the candidate, Templin (1999) argued that the "nature of the discourse about Hillary Clinton signals the deep struggle still taking place in society over the role of women, and the attacks against her can be seen as part of the backlash against the professional woman" (p. 21). Conversations about Clinton as First Lady revolved around "unresolved relationships between concepts taken as antithetical for women by those of our grandmothers' generation: women versus power, work versus marriage, childrearing versus career" (Jamieson, 1995, p. 22). Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1995), when discussing Clinton and the double-bind, echoes Betty Friedan's assessment that Clinton is a Rorschach test for the position of women in American society. For many individuals, she embodies the struggle for women in the public sphere to maintain accepted norms of femininity while enacting typically masculine social positions (Campbell, 1998; Winfield, 1997). Online, scholars are offered a glimpse of Clinton's attempts to communicate with voters in a way that conforms to the masculine persona of the presidency, but also matches the more conversational style associated with feminine social norms and the effeminate norms of mediated communication (Braden, 1995; Falk, 2008; Heldman, Carroll, & Olson, 2005; Jamieson, 1988; Jamieson, 1996; Kunin, 2008). The videos analyzed in this essay show three of the strategies Clinton attempted online, and demonstrate how the candidate worked to balance her persona and conform to the new technology.

Some might question the choice to study Clinton's YouTube[TM] videos: they were not as popular as some user-generated political videos and did not attract as many viewers as Obama's videos. However, Clinton's videos are interesting for a couple of reasons. First, female presidential candidates in the past have faced difficult rhetorical choices when using televised media; Clinton's campaign demonstrates how new media environments may increase or decrease the rhetorical choices of female candidates (Braden, 1995; Heldman, Carroll, & Olson, 2005; Jamieson, 1988; Kunin, 2008). …

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"I'm In!": Hillary Clinton's 2008 Democratic Primary Campaign on YouTube
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