Campaign speeches reflect candidates' motives on college campuses

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Last Tuesday, the Democratic presidential primary occurred in Pennsylvania, and Hillary Clinton took the state, despite her apparent lack of support among many college campuses in the area. In the weeks leading up to the primary, many presidential candidates and their campaign members fought it out in the seeming Battle of the Candidates on Carnegie Mellon’s campus. Michelle Obama, Chelsea Clinton, and John McCain all came here with the intent to draw support from Carnegie Mellon, its surrounding communities, and the nation. However, each act put on a very different show to meet this goal.

The varied opening acts for the different orators' performance-like speeches, for example, were representative of their intended objectives in coming to Carnegie Mellon — and each was indeed unique.

Teresa Heinz Kerry introduced Michelle Obama when she spoke in Skibo Gymnasium, praising Mrs. Obama's character in her introduction and relating Mrs. Obama's visit back to when she herself was campaigning for her husband, John Kerry, in 2004. Heinz Kerry spoke in a soft, almost whisper-like manner, effectively establishing her appearance as more personable and unimposing than the motor-mouth who negatively affected her husband’s campaign in 2004. A similar reputation has at times been attributed to Mrs. Obama, so to have a very personable Heinz Kerry introduce Mrs. Obama contextualized how the latter wanted to be perceived as well — as human, approachable, and well-spoken.

Republican nominee McCain had a short and succinct opening by Sean Weinstock, the student body president, after which the presidential hopeful proceeded to lay out his economic policy. Weinstock's short and uneventful introduction lacked specific appeal to college students, signaling that McCain was here not necessarily for Carnegie Mellon's sake, but rather for the media to pick up his outline of economic policies.

Finally, Chelsea Clinton’s opening act included Carnegie Mellon student bands the Foursix and Tennessee Whiskey. Furthermore, the speakers traveling with the presidential hopeful's daughter were Jehmu Green, former president of Rock the Vote; Sean Astin, an actor in [ITAL]Lord of the Rings[ITAL]; and Erika Alexander, an actress known for her role on [ITAL]The Cosby Show[ITAL]. The presence of these straightforward and humorous young adults and college bands, as opposed to the student body president or another candidate's wife, created a lively, liberal, and activist-like atmosphere in the audience that made students feel that the power of change was in their hands and that they would play an important role in the elections. This appeal to a charged, young audience represents the Clinton campaign’s strong desire to draw in youth support that is visibly lacking on many college campuses, including our own.

The format and content of each of the three visitors' speeches also differed in important ways. At Obama's rally, everyone was given Obama signs and proceeded to do the wave every time excitement built up in the audience. The rhetoric used during the rally by Michelle Obama was almost sermon-like when addressing the audience: "You feel like your pain and struggle is all your own and you're alone in your failure,” she said in attempt to appeal to the human sentiments of those in the audience.

Chelsea Clinton’s visit’s format fell in the middle of the campaign rhetoric spectrum, as she held a semi-formal question-and-answer session in the tent on Midway. Had more of the questions been insightful, the session might have been revealing. However, the questions were fairly vague, along the lines of “What is the best story about your mom?” along with Chelsea making up her own question when a little girl raised her hand and whispered ambiguities to her. Under this format, most answers resulted in a lengthy explanation of heath care or school funding. It seemed that the Hillary Clinton campaign wanted to dispel the candidate's image of being uncaring and cold by having her daughter speak for her in a friendly question and answer format.

Lastly, McCain’s speech fell on the opposite end of the spectrum, given that it was neither a rally nor a question-and-answer session, but rather a formal political pitch of his economic agenda that seemed to use Carnegie Mellon as little more than a place to deliver his platform. While one idea, that of suspending the gas tax during high-commuting seasons, does apply to college students given our propensity to take on adventures such as road trips during summer, references to college students and their issues were at a minimum. However, the gas pitch and similar ones may have been lost on the ears of young adults, as it was wedged between talk of housing market and economic relief — both significant subjects for a policy and management and economic double major like myself, but likely a little dry for students who had come expecting something more dynamic.

These past few weeks, Carnegie Mellon rocked it out by providing crowds worthy of B-list rock stars for all three of these political celebrities. The orators spoke in their own ways in order to establish that they were appealing to our generation, but still wanted their respective campaigns to come out on top.