Dr. Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for WLNE-TV ABC6 Providence, RI and a Political Analyst for KGO Radio 810-AM, San Francisco.
(Providence, Rhode Island) – Happy Easter everyone! When I say the word Easter, it immediately prompts images, doesn’t it? Images of colored eggs, a crucifixion, a bunny, a stone rolled from a tomb entrance - images both religious and secular. Most concepts prompt images, too, including politics. And the use of imagery in politics is often no accident. It’s proven to be a powerful tool. This week’s discussion is prompted by the announcement of Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy, just days ago: “Ma & Pa Clinton” - The family portrait is important in the world of politics. I know some of you will scream, “That’s not fair,” but it’s the reality. The Kennedy family and all its photos probably wrote the book on this. Let’s face it the Clinton family has often looked fractured. To many people, Bill and Hillary have had more of a business partnership than a marriage. Yes, Hillary and Chelsea stood by his side in good times and bad, but it was strained. Now the arrival of a grandchild nine months from now – as the New Hampshire and Iowa campaigns begin – could not be better timing (and I’m not saying it was intentional). In politics – as in comedy – timing is everything!
“Spanning Generations” – It’s common political rhetoric to talk about what your decisions now, mean to the next generations – your children and grandchildren – and this helps humanize the Clinton family portrait. What she might do as President could have an impact on her own grandchild, and all of ours. All of a sudden her policies aren’t just abstract; they are reality for her own family. She’s a stakeholder. Why do you think we saw so many pictures and videos of Mitt and Ann Romney, with their children and grandchildren? The multi-generational family is a very powerful image. People can relate to it.
“The Image Master” – Ronald Reagan is still probably the master of this in my lifetime. His handlers were very deliberate in planting all those flags behind him to the point that the phrase - “Wrapping himself in the American flag” - was born. Reagan, the “rugged, tough” movie star, morphed into Reagan the “rugged, tough” political leader. The pictures of him riding the horse and chopping wood in blue jeans at his Santa Barbara ranch were no accident. And Reagan taking a bullet and living through an assassination attempt, made him politically "bulletproof” for the rest of his presidency. He was double-tough, invincible in image – if not in real life.
“The Unfairness” – Okay, what do you do if you are Condoleezza Rice? Regardless of your politics, she is a brilliant, well-educated, well-qualified woman who has been in the political trenches for two decades. She also reached the pinnacle of academia – Provost at Stanford. But, she’s never been married and has no children. So what’s the family portrait? Her and her pet dog? Yes, it’s horribly unfair and unequal. We’ve elected one “single” President – James Buchanan – in our history, and his sister served as First Lady. It was an anomaly. For Rice it would be a hard sell campaign, standing there on her own. Fair? No; Reality, probably yes. But, we’re in a generation of changing images, so maybe…
“The Smiley Candidate” – He’s not exactly a household name in Providence, or beyond, but the name Brett Smiley might just be making headlines in political circles this year. He’s running for Mayor of Providence and at his campaign kick-off he introduced his husband Jim DeRentis with the same ease that a Barack Obama introduces Michelle, or a George W. Bush introduced Laura, or, for that matter, the ease with which Margaret Thatcher introduced Dennis. Yes, it may offend certain demographics, but it is political reality. We’re going to see more candidates introducing same-sex spouses, and to many voters, it’s just a shrug of the shoulders anymore. People want results; people want good government, no matter who provides it.
“The Double-Edged Sword” – Image making is a roll of the dice. Sometimes the results are great; sometimes they are a disaster. There are no guarantees. When Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis donned a helmet and drove a tank in 1988, he, in the estimation of many, looked like “Snoopy!” It was ironic, because Dukakis had served in the U.S. Army. Still, the photo looked phony and staged, and it backfired, when compared to George H.W. Bush who was a legitimate World War II hero.
“She’s a Killer Queen!” – Perhaps no one in modern political times has reshaped her political image better than Queen Elizabeth II. The stoic, unfeeling ex-mother-in-law in the days after Princess Diana’s horrible death, has been transformed into the beloved Grandma of Diana’s children William and Harry, and now the Great Grandma of Prince George. People across the world will weep her death when it comes. The once despised Queen is much loved today. Images can do a full 180 degrees reversal. This is why politics is often called, “The art of the possible!”
“What it All Means?” – As mentioned, political imagery can be a kingmaker, or a campaign killer. It’s an art; but not a precise science. The image of Hillary Clinton as a grandmother (and mom) is probably a lot more powerful and enduring than Hillary Clinton as a spouse. Expect a lot of Grandma and baby pictures – some with Bill and Chelsea, and Marc (her husband) – and some without.
“The Future” – In some respects, forget about Hillary Clinton. Her political rise or fall in 2016 may be entirely her own doing. But is Chelsea Clinton a future candidate? Or is her husband Marc Mezvinsky a potential candidate, too? (both of his parents served in Congress). The images of them and their baby may be compelling, with political implications into the next generation.
What are your thoughts? Please click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com
. Happy Easter to all!
© 2014, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.
Photo courtesy: The Daily Mail of UK