Enacting the Presidency: Political Argument, Presidential Debates and Presidential Character

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Presidential debates are forums designed to present and select candidates for national office: Their purpose is to provide opportunities for candidates to win over undecided voters, to reinforce voters who have already made a decision about who to vote for, and to change the minds of those who are willing to reconsider their initial judgments concerning which candidate seems more fit to serve as president. Edward Hinck argues that debates are not primarily about presidential policy-making. Rather, they are opportunities to demonstrate a candidate's ability to lead by summarizing, in a specific test of presidential character, the larger conflict between the candidates. Hinck develops an in-depth rhetorical analysis of the presidential and vice presidential debates of 1960 to 1988. The analysis of each series of debates begins with an introduction that focuses discussion on the most important aspects of political image for each of the candidates, then develops a case for understanding the ways in which the debates revealed the rhetorical strengths and weaknesses of each candidate's performance. Hinck's neo-Aristotelian approach asserts that debates serve both deliberative and epideictic ends because they provide important information about the candidates that cannot be disclosed except in the dramatic confrontation of the debate, and because this dramatic confrontation enacts the democratic values of rational dialogue. Enacting The Presidency is recommended to scholars in communication and political science.