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The Strategy of Campaigning.

The Strategy of Campaigning, By Kiron K. Skinner, Serhiy Kudelia, Bruce Bueno De Mesquita and Condoleezza Rice, University of Michigan Press, 338 pages, $35.00


During his ill-fated 1988 race for the White House, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis tried to distance himself from his own liberalism by saying presidential elections should be "about competence, not ideology."

Voters rejected him in part because those contests have always had a strong ideological component. Nevertheless, political consultants and pundits often speak as if having a strong philosophy is a net negative and fodder for one's opponents to brand them as an extremist.

Ronald Reagan was one of the few recent presidents elected after expressing a strong governing philosophy. Ditto for Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

In "The Strategy of Campaigning," Carnegie Mellon University historian Kiron Skinner and three co-authors (including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) have produced a detailed analysis of Reagan's and Yeltsin's political careers. In often exceedingly dense prose, the authors show how both leaders used a communications technique called her-esthetic, which they define as using language as a means of "framing the situation so that others want to join you" and "structuring the world so you can win."

They link Reagan and Yeltsin at the suggestion of Rice, a scholar of Russian politics. Rice consulted on the project but the other authors did most of the research and writing.

They seem to have read every book written about the Gipper and they also combed through campaign staff memos. The authors had an advantage in that Skinner edited a book of Reagan's radio addresses, in which she documented how involved he was in framing the addresses' ideological content.

The authors conclude that Reagan won because he "presented voters with a set of radical ideas about the economy and foreign relations, and linked these two issues in a way that suggested there need be no trade-off between guns and butter."

The comparison with Yeltsin is less convincing. The key difference is that Yeltsin was operating at a time when Russian politics was overcoming the kind of transformation that America had not undergone since the 18th century. Yeltsin was as effective a campaigner as Reagan. But because Russia was just figuring out how to be a democracy, Yeltsin had an easier time shaping a national agenda. Reagan was going against a longer set of political traditions.

Though the Reagan-Yeltsin comparison is a bit of a stretch, "The Strategy of Campaigning" is a valuable case study on how people with strong ideological beliefs can design and implement a road map to their nation's top office.

Claude R. Marx is an award-winning journalist and author of a chapter on media and politics in the book, "The Sixth-Year Itch," edited by Larry Sabato Jr.

Review by Claude R. Marx
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Author:Marx, Claude R.
Publication:Campaigns & Elections
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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