From the Porch to the Information Superhighway-The Path to the Presidency

It’s President’s Day February 18th.  With that, it’s worth discussing the gradual, double-edged communication sword candidates have had to integrate into their campaign to get their ideas to the voting public. Today, information technology has given candidates faster, easier ways to present their solutions and ideas to Americans. It also means the news cycle is quicker and reaches a wider audience if there is a slip up in their strategy or if a candidate misspeaks or gets some facts wrong.

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

George Washington never campaigned openly for the Presidency. He was ambitious but thought brazenly crusading for the office to be uncouth. He was a master at working behind the scenes, talking to the right people, while appearing to not covet the office but would accept it for the betterment of the nation.  As history shows, Washington was the perfect person to be the first President because he didn’t want any royal titles and his leaving after two terms set the standard for years to come.

In 1836, William Henry Harrison  first used a train to campaign across America.  Later in 1840, William Henry Harrison was the first to openly campaign for the Presidency running against incumbent Martin Van Buren with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”  “Tyler Too” refers to John Tyler who would take office after President Harrison’s death due to sickness brought on by a one hour and 45 minute inauguration speech in the freezing, cold, Washington, DC, winter.  Harrison served one month before Tyler assumed the office.

Despite the use of mass transportation such as trains, Candidates James Garfield in 1880 and William McKinley in 1896 won their elections by just sitting on the porch and welcoming visitors and serving drinks. While they were visiting, the candidates had the opportunity to present their ideas and give campaign speeches. McKinley was also reportedly the first to use the telephone to make campaign calls.

After the turn of the century, President Teddy Roosevelt was the first to be documented on film delivering campaign speeches. His bombastic, fist pumping style was perfectly suited for silent film.

Hardings and Coolidges - The President and Vic...
Hardings and Coolidges – The President and Vice-President of the United States with their wives, standing in front of automobiles. Left to right: President Warren G. Harding, hat in hand, with walking stick; First Lady Mrs. Florence Harding in fur coat and feathered hat; Mrs. Grace Goodhue Coolidge; Vice President Calvin Coolidge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soon afterwards, radio broadcasts appeared on the political scene.  President Calvin Coolidge used radio to deliver addresses in the early 1920s.   Later, the 1924 election featured the candidates Coolidge and Democratic candidate John Davis delivering campaign speeches on the radio.

The Presidential debates and conventions in 1952 were the first to use the television medium to get their ideas to the public.  Eisenhower’s campaign created the first TV ad.  The catchy tune, “We Like Ike.”  Later, President Lyndon Johnson used the television medium effectively for the “Daisy” campaign ad that ran only once but was effective in beating Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964’s election. Before the development of cable and 24 hour news channels, candidates planned their strategy with the realization that fewer television channels and reporters existed.  However, the audiences were larger per channel. Even so, the Public Broadcasting System didn’t begin until 1970.

Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Ric...
Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon during the first televised U.S. presidential debate in 1960. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today the press pool is larger and news channels and producers require a constant news cycle with pressure to fill the air space and get ratings.

Presidential Candidates have to negotiate several cable news organizations as well as local affiliate news reporters and anchors.  In addition, the internet, YouTube, Twitter, blog writers, mobile media have given candidates more information streams. Candidates also use or have to make themselves available for the morning talk show circuit on radio and television. Talk radio has also entered the world of campaigning that can keep a story alive well after the initial news cycle.

The 1996 campaign was the first to use the internet to send out literature such as brochures and other media.  The 2000 campaign candidates, Governor Bush and Vice President Gore, each created and maintained their websites. Since then, the internet, with ads, email, and other informational sites, has continually evolved to be a significant part of a campaign.

Despite several additional communication sources to reach the voting public, there is no substitute for face to face, personal exposure–the shaking of a potential voter’s hands. The modern age has seen the use of trains as a recurring theme for presidential candidates.  Besides Harrison being the first, others that have used the rails are Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, William Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and most famously, Harry S. Truman on his whistle-stop tour.

All of this means that candidates and incumbents have more ways, more paths, more streams to influence voters, get their ideas out, and communicate how they are better for the country than the other person.  With these tools for discovery, it is entirely possible  voters will elect a woman to the highest office, and soon.

The other side of the coin is that with more opportunities to reach and more hours in the day speaking on the public stage, the chances for a mistake or a misstep increase.  The good news is; it is easier to correct it if you have a counter strategy.  Technology is here to stay and the days of a candidate sitting at home on the front porch waiting for voters to arrive to hear him speak are long gone.

Notable Links:

The State of the Union Address

This is the beginning of a new category that will be part of my blog menu, “I’ll Take Potpourri, Alex.” This section of the URL universe is a place where I can write about anything I want with a slant towards history. This section will concentrate on recent, current and possibly future events. Today’s topic is the State of the Union speech with a nod to President Barack Obama’s address February 12.

English: President Barack Obama delivers the 2...

It’s a task every United States President accomplishes every year since George Washington presented his to congress in January 1790.  Presidents George Washington and John Adams delivered their state of union speeches in person to Congress.  President Thomas Jefferson disliked public speaking and thought giving a speech to congress came a little too close to the way British Monarch’s addressed the Parliament each year.  Jefferson didn’t want to do anything that smacked of British ways plus he had a high-pitched speaking voice and a lisp that didn’t serve him well communicating before large audiences.  He decided to give his state of the union address to congress in writing and have it read to congress by a clerk.

This practice was kept until President Woodrow Wilson delivered his state of the union speech in 1913.  The practice of presenting the speech in written form through the years had the result of reducing the president’s influence in legislative matters.  With radio, and later television, giving the President a new avenue for a bully pulpit reaching millions, delivering the speech in person made sense so that more influence could be exerted directly and indirectly through constituents. President Calvin Coolidge’s State of the Union address was the first to be broadcast by radio in 1923.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s address was the first to be aired on television in 1953. By the 1960s, the address was moved to prime time television.

President Ronald Reagan with Vice President Ge...
President Ronald Reagan with Vice President George H.W. Bush and House Speaker Jim Wright during the 1988 State of the Union address. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two recent presidents come to mind I believe thoroughly enjoyed giving the state of the union speech. They are Presidents Ronald Wilson Reagan and William Jefferson Clinton.  They just seem to relish the whole spectacle and ritual of being announced, walking down the aisle, shaking hands, and standing before the whole Congressional branch, with representatives from the Judicial Branch and the Pentagon, and constituents in the balcony,  knowing that they were the big dogs in that neighborhood.  You could see it in their eyes—they loved it! Besides the election, it’s the Super Bowl and World Series all wrapped up in one event for the President.  The address is his chance to be and look Presidential. The speech is his chance to form a consensus while outlining his legislative priorities he believes will make the United States a better nation.

English: Al Gore and Newt Gingrich applaud to ...
English: Al Gore and Newt Gingrich applaud to US president Clinton waves during the State of the Union address in 1997. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)e

I get a laugh out of the congressional audience camera close up, television cut-away reaction shot depending on which party is in power.  Once the President presents an idea, one side might stand and applaud while the other sits stone-faced, looking like they  heard a joke from a comedian that fell flat.  It’s half of the drama of watching.  Who will the TV cameras focus on while sitting there obstinate?  I almost want to see the President act like a college professor or teacher and ask the person not applauding, “Hey there, yes Senator, why aren’t you getting with the program, join the team and come in for the big win.”

The sitting on the hands routine is what makes America unique. We can disagree impolitely, as in a bar fight, or politely, as in sitting and staring, refusing to acknowledge the brilliance of a statement when others around you are cheering wildly.

Eight US Historical Figures for the Time Machine

By Rick Bretz

If I could go back in time and be given the opportunity to work with or talk with anyone I wanted, the following list is who I would choose.  I started thinking about this recently because I was reading an article about George S. Patton and, by all accounts from research, he believed in reincarnation.  Specifically, he believed he was a member of Armies that participated in major battles through Europe’s history.  I thought, if I could go back, where would I want to be and who would I want to talk to during my stay.  It would give me a chance to feel some of that confidence and aura that made them great or controversial.

Here is the list.

Emanuel Leutze's depiction of Washington's att...
Emanuel Leutze’s depiction of Washington’s attack on the Hessians at Trenton on December 25, 1776, was a great success in America and in Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. General George Washington at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776.

Riding beside Washington during the battle of Trenton would have been interesting just to see how he commanded his Army.  From everything that I have read about his personality, Washington did not talk much.  I would just ride along and not ask any questions. I would remain silent so the Father of our Country could concentrate and gain our liberty.  I would observe and take notes surreptitiously.  I, however, would make sure I was in the same boat at the Delaware River crossing and with him during the assault just to see how he handles himself.  Later, during the victory dinner, I would fit in a question or two about it. I would probably ask something ridiculous like, “Was it as cold out there for you last night as it was for me?” or a conversation starter like, “Those Hessians wear some silly hats don’t they?” Washington would have responded, “Shouldn’t you be at Valley Forge.”


2. Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence from June 11-June 28, 1776.

I would hope that I would refrain from interrupting while he was drafting the declaration.  More than that, I would hope that I wouldn’t be a back seat writer.  For instance, when he writes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I wouldn’t want to say something amateurish like, “Isn’t that a little wordy?”   Instead I would say something like, “That’s perfect, Tom.   Adams doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”


Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid
Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Charlie Chaplin working on films in early 20th Century Hollywood.

This would be great just to work around a genius at the start of the industry.  I would probably be asking for a part in all of his films.  “Hey Charlie, do you have a part for me in ‘Gold Rush’ or ‘City Lights’ or the ‘The Kid’.  Either way, I would just hang out and watch how he worked his magic.


4. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at Silicon Valley in the 1980s.

This would have been great to hang out in the conference rooms of both sides just to see what they would have been saying about each other.  Sitting in on all the business decisions and negotiations that helped build both companies would have been enlightening.  I would have been at the ground floor and bought all those company shares before the IPO and watched them grow.  This is starting to get a little sad, I’ll stop writing now.


5.  Mark Twain while touring Europe and writing Innocents Abroad in 1867.

Touring Europe and the Middle East with Mark Twain would have been a hoot.  Hanging out at the local café or pub with him cracking wise on American tourists or the local scene seems like a great way to pass the time.


English: Theodore Roosevelt wearing pince-nez,...
English: Theodore Roosevelt wearing pince-nez, traditionally uncredited photograph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. President Teddy Roosevelt during his African Safari in 1909.

An African Safari with President Teddy Roosevelt!  All he would have to say is “Do you want to come along.” “Yes!!!!”  I would be waiting at the docks to board the ship going to Africa. He undertook the trip so he could bring back specimens for the National Museum and the American Museum of Natural History. He also became a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association in 1907 when he was President. I could just see myself standing beside Roosevelt while a Rhino charges waiting patiently for him to shoot before I would. I’m pretty sure I would have been faster than President Roosevelt if things got out of hand-I think.


The route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
The route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during the Corps of Discovery expedition west to map out the newly purchased US Territory from France past the Mississippi River in 1804-1806.

This would have an adventure worth taking.  I would have traveled with the expedition and would have seen new rivers and forests on my way to the Pacific Ocean.  I probably would have suggested a route a little more South.  Lewis and Clark would have said, “No back seat driving.” Let’s face it, we take driving west for granted today because we have nice four lane highway and rest stop and hotels. These two and their expedition didn’t even have a dirt road or trail.


8. Abraham Lincoln for the whole four years in the White House sitting in the oval office so I could hear some of his stories.

Lincoln was great story-teller.  I would have been content just to hang around and be his sounding board while he was trying to end the Civil War.  If he threw in a humorous story now and then, I would have been content. One thing is for sure, I would have tried to attend the play with him and his wife, Mary, at Ford’s Theatre on April 14th.   I would have also heard the door open behind us.



Honorable Mentions:  President Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Harry S. Truman when he found out the United States had the Atomic Bomb.  Andrew Carnegie during the industrial revolution, John Ford creating the automobile and the assembly line, Vince Lombardi during his Green Bay Packer coaching years, and Babe Ruth during his whole career.