When Poetry Meets Prose--Where Campaigns & Governing Overlap and Collide led by Brent Colburn


A study group led by IOP FELLOW, Brent Colburn

Thursdays, 4:00-5:30pm

Faculty Dining Room (FDR), 1st Floor Littauer Building


As Mario Cuomo famously noted, politicians campaign in poetry, but they govern in prose.  Many of the skills needed to win the presidency appear transferable to the world of governance, but many of the challenges faced by a sitting president prove very different than those encountered on the campaign trail.  This study group will examine the differences, and similarities, between campaigning and governing in today’s political environment, as well as the differences inherent in running for president as a challenger versus as an incumbent.  In particular, the study group will examine the communications tools used in modern politics, and how they have to adapt to meet the needs of campaigning and governing.


Week One:  Overview & The First Campaign—Communicating From a Blank Slate

Week one will provide an overview of the semester, discussing the general differences between campaigning and governing, and delve into the realities of a candidate’s initial attempts to gain the White House.  Running as a challenger (or in an open election) allows presidential candidates to introduce themselves to the American people without the burden of compromise or the weight of an executive branch record that needs to be defended.  Candidates and campaigns are not constrained by the realities associated with policy implementation, allowing them to propose new and novel ideas in an attempt to differentiate themselves from their competitors while illustrating their vision for a new direction for the country.  We will examine the tactical and messaging advantages associated with challenger and open-seat candidates while looking at historical examples of when this unconstrained style of campaigning has, and hasn't, worked.



Week Two:  Running for the White House vs Working in the White House

Presidential campaigns are a uniquely American experience—long days, constant stress, and life in the middle of a media circus.  And if you win, you are lucky enough to get…more long days, more constant stress, and more days in the middle of a media circus.  But for everything they have in common, working to help someone become president and working for the president can be very different experiences.  A campaign is a singularly focused event, with a finish line and a straight forward goal.  Working for an administration is an unending grind, with competing priorities and multiple goals.  Week two will examine the different experiences—and challenges—associated with working to win an election and the work that starts when the campaign ends.  


Week Three:  Domestic Policy—Campaigning as a Visionary, Governing as a Collaborator

Domestic policy issues tend to dominate presidential campaigns, but presidents are often constrained by Congress and other factors when it comes to implementing their domestic agendas.  Re-election efforts often hinge on the health of the economy and the state of major domestic policy initiatives, areas where the president often relies on other institutions or factors to gain success.  Week three will focus on administration’s ongoing efforts to wrestle with this tension and communicate that they are making progress on the issues most top of mind for voters, using President Obama's "We Can't Wait" strategy heading into the 2012 election as a case study.

Guest Speaker: James Kvaal (Via Skype)


Week Four:  Covering Campaigns, Covering the White House—A Reporter’s Perspective

One similarity between a Presidential campaign and a Presidential administration is the unending scrutiny of an active, and always present, press corps.  Reporters who cover the politics of campaigning and the politics of governing face challenges all their own, living and breathing the same issues as the subjects they cover, but with different goals and different pressures.  Week four will provide a reporter’s perspective on the differences, and what is similarities, between covering a campaign and an administration. 

Guest Speaker: Matthew McGregor and John Tass-Parker


Week Five:  Foreign & Defense Policy--The Gap between Voter Interest & Presidential Power

Foreign and defense policy often receive less focus than domestic, economic and social policy issues in the course of a modern presidential campaign.  Dinner table issues may dominate the discussion during campaigns, but in reality Presidents have much more unilateral power when it comes to foreign and military affairs, and their legacies are often tied to their decisions in these areas.  Week four will examine the disparity between the time spent on foreign and military affairs during a campaign and the time and effort spent on these issues when in power.

Guest Speaker: Josh Earnest


Week Six:  The Re-Elect—Campaigning With a Record

Unlike a president's first general election, a re-election campaign requires the ability to defend a record that touches all aspects of the power of the executive branch.  Policies are judged not only on their wisdom, but also on the executive branch's ability to implement them in an efficient and effective manner.  President's not only "own" the impact of their decisions, but also the successes (and failures) of individuals across the government they lead.  Challengers facing sitting Presidents must also run a different kind of race, targeting the incumbents record while articulating a vision of their own.  Week six will focus on the challenges inherent in running this type of campaign, looking specifically at the differences and similarities faced by Presidents Bush and Obama in their 2004 and 2012 re-election efforts.

Guest Speaker: Stephen Krupin


Week Seven:  Same Tools, Different Goals—New Media Inside Campaigns & Government

The nature of political communications has changed drastically in the last ten years, with new media and social networking tools allowing political operatives and policy makers to connect more directly with their intended audiences.  That said, these tools have been put to different uses in the campaign and government environments, and have faced different constraints and challenges.  Week seven will examine the role that new media tools have played in the different forms of political communications required during a campaign and during a presidency.  

Guest Speaker: Candy Crowley


Week Eight:  2016—An Open Election with a Re-Elect Feel

As we head into the 2016 presidential election cycle, Democrats are faced with a unique challenge—a leading candidate for an open seat who brings to the table many of the challenges associated with a re-election campaign.  Hillary Clinton’s record is long, and her public persona is in many ways on par with a sitting president, with voters having shaped opinions about her and her positions over the course of two-plus decades in the public eye.  Week eight will examine how the current campaigns are negotiating an election environment in which one candidate is such a high profile public figure, and how they are dealing with defending and leveraging her long public record.

Guest Speaker: David Axelrod