JUDGMENT, EXPERIENCE, AND LEADERSHIP: CANDIDATE DEBATES ON THE IRAQ WAR IN THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES by ProQuest

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The examination of 25 pre-primary and primary debates of the 2008 campaign indicates most Republicans, over time, moved toward ever stronger support of President Bush and the surge policy, while continuing to link meeting the challenge in Iraq with the war on terror and moral resolve. The Democrats, conversely, increasingly embraced timetables for withdrawal. McCain and Obama, the ultimate victors, depicted Iraq as the defining issue that best reflected their respective leadership capabilities, thereby setting the key frames of "judgment" and "experience" that would continue to dominate the 2008 general election, even when the economy eclipsed Iraq as an issue. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

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									    JUDGMENT, EXPERIENCE, AND LEADERSHIP:
CANDIDATE DEBATES ON THE IRAQ WAR IN THE 2008
            PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES
                                  DENISE M. BOSTDORFF




The examination of 25 pre-primary and primary debates of the 2008 campaign
indicates most Republicans, over time, moved toward ever stronger support of
President Bush and the surge policy, while continuing to link meeting the chal-
lenge in Iraq with the war on terror and moral resolve. The Democrats, conversely,
increasingly embraced timetables for withdrawal. McCain and Obama, the ulti-
mate victors, depicted Iraq as the defining issue that best reflected their respective
leadership capabilities, thereby setting the key frames of “judgment” and “experi-
ence” that would continue to dominate the 2008 general election, even when the
economy eclipsed Iraq as an issue.


T    he primary season for the 2008 presidential race was a drawn-out affair, with
     candidate debates beginning in April 2007, more than 18 months before
Americans would cast their votes in the general election, and the Democratic
competition remaining unsettled until May 20, 2008, when Senator Barack
Obama of Illinois finally accumulated a majority of elected delegates in the
competition with his relentless rival, former first lady and senator from New
York, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and declared that the nomination was “within
reach.”1 When campaigning first began, political pundits had predicted that
Iraq would be the major issue. The 2006 midterm elections, after all, had swept
the Democrats to power in Congress for the first time since 1994 on the basis of
public discontent over the war, with Democrats winning a sizable majority of
seats in the House and defeating six Republican incumbents in the Senate for
a narrow 51–49 edge. Over the next year, however, Democrats failed to deliver
on promises to end the conflict. They simply did not have enough votes in the


Denise M. Bostdorff is Professor of Communication and Associate Dean for the Class of 2012 at
The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio.

© 2009 Michigan State University Board of Trustees. All rights reserved.
Rhetoric & Public Affairs Vol. 12, No. 2, 2009, pp. 223–278
ISSN 1094-8392
224                                                       RHETORIC & PUBLIC AFFAIRS

Senate to enact legislation passed by the House or to override threatened clo-
ture or presidential vetoes. Moreover, many Democrats—despite their opposi-
tion to the war itself—were reluctant to use Congress’s power of the purse to
deny funding for the war lest they appear not to be supporting the troops.2
    Although the continuing violence in Iraq and lack of progress suggested
that the war would be the issue of the 2008 campaign, polls in late 2007 revealed
a startling development: for the first time in two years, voters selected the
economy, rather than Iraq, as the issue most crucial to them for the 2008
presidential race. A stalling economy, along with perceptions that President
Bush’s so-called “surge” or escalation of
								
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