Ramblings from Georgia

Campaign Excitement – A Generational Gap

Posted by apacheangel on March 10, 2011

This is an extra-credit essay I wrote for my American Government class. I hope you enjoy it.

Both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama raised excitement as iconic revolutionaries, though on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Ronald Reagan came when the country was nervous about an oil crisis and after a president who did little to confront this threat. Americans were afraid of a failing economy and a president who apparently made it worse. Barack Obama came when the country was afraid of rising fuel prices and after a president who was blamed for the problem. Americans, like those in Reagan’s time, were afraid of a failing economy, a president who seemingly made it worse, and (this time) a presidential candidate who had many of the same policies as his predecessor. The candidates were treated very differently by the press. Age and experience were issues of their campaigns, though not raised by the candidates, but rather by their opponents.

Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign was revolutionary. Reagan came into the White House after a one-term Democratic president – James “Jimmy” Carter. Many were unhappy with Carter’s policies on the economy, oil, and foreign relations, and were ready for a real change. Reagan offered a renewed sense of patriotism, lower taxes, and, frankly, a change from politics as usual. Reagan loved America , and was ready to fight to keep its freedoms. After watching Carter embarrass the nation in Iran, this was a refreshing change.
Many said that Reagan was too old and too inexperienced to lead the country. Reagan served eight years in U.S. Army Air Force from April 29, 1937 to December 9, 1945, ranking Captain when he left. He was governor of California from 1967 to 1975. His opponents felt that this was not enough; having only served as governor of a state, and never holding a national office made some people nervous.

Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was historical. He was the first viable African-American presidential candidate. Obama came in after a two-term Republican president – George W. Bush, who was largely unpopular with the American public in his second term. Obama was almost the anti-Bush. Bush was a rich, white American born into wealth and privilege. Obama was of mixed-race, raised in a single-parent home, and, seemingly most important to voters, he was not a Republican. Obama, like Reagan, made a point of contrasting himself to his predecessor though Reagan ran against his predecessor. Obama equated his opponent with the current president, and contrasted himself to the two of them.
One of the main criticisms of Obama during his campaign was that he had insufficient experience to lead the country. Obama served as a state senator for Illinois from 1997-2004, except from 2000-2002, when he lost the election. He served as a U.S. senator starting in 2005, and resigned his seat in November 2008 after winning the presidential election. He was criticized for his record of voting “present” over 100 times.

Criticism arose from the fact that he was a less than one-term junior senator.
Both candidates had a huge following of excited Americans who believed in their policies, and in the candidates themselves. What caused all this excitement behind these candidates? Was it just their policies? Was it their campaign tactics?

Reagan was the breakthrough candidate for using television to campaign. He began this revolution when he campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964 , delivering his “A Time for Choosing/Rendezvous with Destiny” speech during a purchased time slot.

If Reagan was the pioneer of television campaigning, then Obama was the first president of television campaigning. Like never before, a presidential candidate monopolized television for his campaign. He even had an entire channel on Dish Network that covered his plan for America. Campaign advertisements on nearly every channel, an entire channel devoted to his policy, appearances on talk shows, morning shows, and evening news shows put Obama in the spotlight like no presidential candidate before.
Obama set unprecedented records for campaign finance. He raised more money for his campaign than anyone preceding him.

The campaign platforms of both Reagan and Obama were basically the anti to what their predecessors had practiced, and that seemed to be the appeal for both of them. Reagan ran on lowering taxes to stimulate the economy, and less government control, regulation, and involvement. He also embodied and advocated a renewed sense of patriotism, and returning to the “God, Family, Country” mentality. Obama ran on energy independence, saying that we need to look for alternative sources of energy. He advocated universal health care; he said it should be the right of every American to have access to affordable health care. Both of the candidates’ platforms were opposite of the way the country was being run at the time and very appealing to the American people. Their ideas and policies were what the American people wanted at the time.

Both candidates had interesting choices for their running mates. Reagan picked George H. W. Bush his closest competitor in primaries. Obama picked Joe Biden a long-time U.S. senator. Biden ran for president in 1988, and even 2008, but was almost ignored in primaries and caucuses in the 2008 election. Neither of the candidates’ choices for vice president generated much more excitement for them; however it may be reasonably thought that Reagan may have gained more votes by picking George H. W. Bush, because Bush had received such a large percentage of the votes in the primaries. The vice-presidential nominees were clearly support figures. They did not generate more excitement or many more votes, which, in 2008, stood in stark contrast to the opposition.

Reagan received just over 50 percent of the popular vote nationally , but carried almost every state in the Union. Exceptions were Minnesota, Georgia, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. He lost these states by less than 5 percent, excepting D.C., Rhode Island, and Georgia. However, his narrow victory with the popular vote paled in comparison to the 489-49 Electoral College vote victory. Like Reagan, Obama received about half of the popular vote (though Obama’s percentage was about 52 percent, slightly higher than Reagan’s) and the majority (365-162) of the votes from the Electoral College. Geographically, however, Obama only won half the country. A post-election map shows that Obama won 28 of the states. The youth vote is always coveted by every candidate, and though usually a minority of votes, often ends up deciding the election. Among 18-29 year olds in 1980 43 percent voted for Reagan. Ironically, Carter received almost the same percentage. In 2008 66 percent of 18-29 years olds voted for Obama . McCain received only 32 percent of votes from this demographic.

Reagan’s acceptance speech after he won the election was largely a “thank you” speech. He thanked those who voted for him, his family, and those who had prayed for him. He requested the prayers of the American people as he prepared to take office. He told the American people that they had achieved a great victory, and perhaps would achieve another soon, making reference to the houses of Congress. Reagan’s speech was somewhat informal, he had his family, George H. W. and Barbara Bush on stage with him. At one point during his speech two men came behind him onto the stage carrying what looked like a large cake shaped like the United States, interrupted him, and told him that they “just wanted to show [him] what the map of the United States looked like at 8 o’clock tonight.”

Obama’s acceptance speech was basically a victory speech. Some compared it to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech , saying that it was a “We Have Achieved the Dream” speech. He thanked his family, the voters, and his campaign staff. In contrast to Reagan’s speech, Obama’s was more formal. His family came on stage with him, but then left, and there were no interruptions by cake or anything else.

Obama was the first man ever to create not only an office, but a website for the president-elect. He came under a lot of fire for this seemingly presumptuous move. Many were skeptical about this new Office of the President-Elect, especially since he made a sign for his first press conference that not only said “Office of the President-Elect,” but also bore the presidential seal.

Obama and Reagan ran on very different platforms, but during similar situations. The main reason for the excitement that they generated seems to be that they were a change from the politics that were coming from the White House when they ran. They had policies that answered the cries of the American people, and their opponents did not. Reagan called for a return to American idealism. Obama called for a sense of internationalism, an advocacy of leaving American individualism, and looking to other countries for precedents, policies and support. Reagan’s policies were proved, and he went on to win the next election by outstanding margins. Only time will tell if the same will happen for Obama.


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