From Pamphlets to Blogs: Communication throughout the American Political Process

The Continental Congress was, in a sense, an early version of a blog. Where these Colonial elites met and voiced their opinions for others to see and hear. In the early days of our Republic, these meetings were kept from the public, for fear of the British arresting them all and ending the much needed debate. Thomas Paine, an influential writer and Founding Father, wrote Common Sense. This pamphlet become the rallying call of the Colonies to revolt against Britain. Hundreds of thousand sold throughout all 13 colonies.  With the formation of the new constitution, a debate began over the size of this new union and the strength of the central government.The Federalists’ writings would later be published in what is know as the Federalist Papers With the opening of non-land holders being able to vote, immigration, and newer technology, the political landscape changed even more in the early 1800s. “In response to these factors and improvements in printing technology, in the mid-1830s, entrepreneurial journalists such as James Gordon Bennett and Benjamin Day in New York, and others in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and elsewhere, cut the price of their daily newspapers to a penny from the six cents it had been before” (Ebook, Chapter 6). This rise of prophets freed many newspapers to become independent with their finances, rather than rely on party leaders.

For the first time in history, the vast majority of the American public could hear their presidential candidate. The growth of radio ownership in the U.S. skyrocketed. In the mid-1920s to early 1930s, “radios were found in more than 45 percent of all U.S. households, and ten years after that, in 1940, more than 80 percent of all U.S households had radios” (ebook, chapter 6). With this rise of radio, came the rise of the modern FCC. They are the owns who censor radio, telecommunications, and the internet. Their main job back then was to allow equal time for political candidates of either parties. They also allowed a candidate who was slandered to have the right to respond to that attack, something that is lacking in print media (ebook, chapter 6). The advantage this made for news and political candidates was extraordinary. President Franklin D. Roosevelt took great advantage of this medium in his “fireside chats.” These talks with the American people went on for 11 years, between 1933 and 1944, FDR gave a total of 30 fireside chats. By the time of his death in 1945, many Americans felt as though a family member had passed away. His use of radio endeared him to millions of everyday Americans.

With the rise of television came the rise of the modern politician. The need to look their best and speak clearly. The first televised presidential debate was in 1960 between Democrat John F Kennedy and Republican Richard M. Nixon. On the screen, Kennedy was perceived as calm, handsome, well put together, and relaxed. Nixon, however, was the complete opposite. He was sweaty, had a 5 o’clock shady, and at one point his head hit the boom mic. From the radio, many thought that Nixon won the debate, but for those watching, they voted Kennedy the winner. They have to be able to get their point across clearly now with instantaneous transmission to millions across the country. Reagan did with the television what FDR did for the radio. He became known as the “great communicator.” Reagan mastered the television. Thanks to his time as a Hollywood actor, he was able to use the television to his benefit. He set the standard for what a President has to look like on camera.

The Internet has revolutionized the way politicians connect with their constituents. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, the new forms of connection is endless. During the 2008 campaigns, the online use was above any previous election, and in the 2012 as well! Obama, Hillary, and McCain used social media like no other before. Barack Obama pushed the social media norm through the roof. His connection with young voters and minorities greatly impacted his voter turnout. Continuing it into his Presidency, Barack Obama has weekly addresses on YouTube with those who want to watch. The internet has greatly impacted the way voters get their news. It has opened the talking forum to any and all Americans, which can be a blessing and a curse. For with the lack of ownership and lack of scrutiny, these bloggers can post whatever they want with littler to no backing. Obama knows what it means to live by cura personalis.


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