Arguments in the 2008 Presidential Election

By Hollihan, Thomas A. | Argumentation and Advocacy, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Arguments in the 2008 Presidential Election


Hollihan, Thomas A., Argumentation and Advocacy


The 2008 presidential campaign between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain broke new ground in almost every way imaginable. Most obviously, of course it resulted in the election of Barack Obama, our nation's first African-American president. But it was also the first time a post-baby boomer was elected; the first campaign in which a former first lady was a serious contender for the nomination; and the first time the Republican Party nominated a woman for national office. It was also the most expensive presidential election in history. More than $2.4 billion dollars was spent on the presidential race by all of the contenders, and Obama and McCain alone spent more than a billion dollars (Cummings, 2008). Perhaps not quite as significant, but unique nonetheless, the 2008 election was the first wide open race for the nomination-with no incumbent presidential or vice presidential candidate running-since 1952. It was also the first time that both the Democrats and the Republicans nominated currently serving U.S. senators to head their presidential tickets, and Obama was only the third person to go directly from the senate to the Oval Office (Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy preceded him on this path).

This was also the first election where the internet arguably determined the outcome. In 2006, before the presidential campaign was even underway, the internet played an important role in narrowing the field of candidates. A video clip appeared and was quickly disseminated in a viral fashion of Senator George Allen (VA), who had been considered a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, making a racial slur. In the clip, Allen is heard referring to a 20-year-old volunteer for his senate opponent, who happened to be of Indian descent as a "macaca," a term used in some European countries to disparage Africans. Allen apologized for his remarks but they refused to go away, and he ultimately lost his bid for re-election to the senate and chose not to enter the race for the GOP presidential nomination (Craig & Shear, 2006). The most significant impact of the internet on the race, however, was the spectacular success that the Obama campaign enjoyed using the web to get its message out to supporters, attract volunteers, and raise campaign donations. The Obama campaign especially benefited from the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to engage possible voters. Obama ended up raising more than $500 million online in 6.5 million donations from 3 million people in increments that averaged $80 each (Vargas, 2008).

This internet-driven campaign especially engaged young people. Younger Americans followed and participated in the 2008 campaign to a degree that had not been seen since the vote was first extended to 18 year olds nationwide in 1972. It is estimated that approximately 23 million Americans under the age of 30 voted in the 2008 presidential election, which represented an increase of about 3.4 million from the 2004 election. These numbers are encouraging, but they still represent only about 53 percent of eligible voters in this age group. Still, when 2008 is compared to 2000 the increase in turnout among young voters is almost 11 percent (Young Voters, 2008). It should also be added that Barack Obama received his strongest support from the 18-to-29 year-old voting bloc, as approximately two-thirds of younger voters cast their ballot for the Democratic ticket (Young Voters, 2008).

Some of the increased interest in the election was certainly a result of the myriad of challenges that the nation, and indeed the world faced in 2008. The United States was embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while some progress was being touted in Iraq, in Afghanistan things actually seemed to be worsening as the enemy remained in control of much of the nation outside the capital city. In both war zones there were repeated instances of suicide bombings claiming hundreds of innocent victims. …

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