Michael Lempert, a linguistic anthropologist at the University of Michigan, and anthropologist Michael Silverstein of the University of Chicago, authors of the book "Creatures of Politics: Media, Message and the American Presidency," said the book dissects the construction and presentation of a presidential candidate's "message" -- revealed via a carefully choreographed persona composed of appearance, style of speech, gesture and publicly packaged biography.
"Basically, we've come to rely on the characterizations of candidates that this system has invented to help us make sense of which candidates we should support," Lempert said in a statement. "We not only have debates, but endless debates about the debates."
Rather than just being a chance to talk about the issues, the debates are also a form of theater to take the measure of the candidates their appearance, their pronunciation, their use of gestures, even their gaffes, the researchers said.
"Kerry was, ironically, viewed as being the more patrician -- his extended family was wealthy, but his parents were upper-middle class -- based on his grammar and elocution," Silverstein said.
"And so he seemed like somebody who wasn't real. When you look at W's bloopers, they weren't really bloopers at all. They were deliberate efforts to seem real, like a regular person. Bush deployed this tool to great effect and other politicians used this technique as well, by referring to Obama as Osama and then repudiating this as a simple mistake."
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