by Amber Cox
Humor, religion and scandals have played a large role in the 2008 presidential election, according to a panel that recounted campaign highlights.
“Scandals, Jokes, and God: The Rocky Road to the White House” was the name of the Oct. 13 panel, hosted by the Baccalaureate Honors Program. It featured four professors from several departments addressing election issues. Senior Brittany Diego and sophomore Julie Morcate were co-moderators, and Dr. Arlene Wilner helped plan the event.
Professor Laura Bennett, an adjunct faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts, Education and Sciences, talked about the role of religion in the presidential election.
“I think it’s very significant that Obama is the democratic nominee this year,” she said. “None of the other primary candidates spoke the language of religion as fluently as Obama does.”
Bennett said that Obama did not just start talking about religion this election; he began at the 2004 Democratic National Convention with his “Audacity of Hope” speech.
“The speech was full of the religious and quasi-religious language and metaphors he has used so adeptly since then,” she said.
Bennett believes that there have been several important changes in the Republican party over the last few years.
A survey done in 2004 as well as this year asked about the role of church in political issues. In 2004, 44 percent of Americans said that the church should stay out of social and political affairs. This year, the number rose to 52 percent.
“They want Christianity to be less closely aligned with the Republican party,” Bennett said.
Dr. Barry Seldes of the Political Science Department discussed the Sarah Palin phenomenon. He said that “McCain pulled the most surprising move” by choosing Palin.
“Immediately, the attention switched to her,” he said. “She electrified the base.”
Seldes said that when Palin gave her speech at the Republican National Convention, people were in awe of her.
“Palin has become the leader of the wing,” he said.
Seldes believes that Obama wants change but does not give the slogan any content.
“Palin represented the change, or something new,” Seldes said.
Dr. Myra Gutin, a professor in the Communication and Journalism Department, talked about humor. She said that it has the power to “neutralize.”
“Obama and McCain seem like humorous guys,” Gutin said. “It’s nice to watch the candidates laugh at themselves.”
A clip from Saturday Night Live (SNL) was shown, depicting Tina Fey as Palin. On Oct. 25, Palin is supposed to be on SNL in the role of Tina Fey.
“[Palin] became the butt of every political joke,” Gutin said.
She also believes that more people are getting political news from the humor of the campaign, especially the 18- to 25-year-old demographic.
“Fey used material straight from Palin’s transcripts and people were laughing,” Gutin said. “Some people aren’t sure where Tina Fey ends and Sarah Palin begins.”
Dr. David Dewberry, also a communication professor, discussed the presence of scandals and non-scandals, and mentioned the use of scandals as “political attack” weapons.
“People are trying to undermine the personal and political issues,” he said.
Dewberry believes that the non-scandals “are very good for democracy.”
“They show the value of free press,” he said. “They allow you to evaluate candidates in a way you usually can’t.”