Ethos in Presidential Campaign Politics: Does Credibility Matter? Part 1 of 3

I remember watching Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama debate several times in 2008. To me that was the election. At the time much of the country was so displeased with President Bush that it seemed impossible for a Republican to get elected. Indeed, President Obama ended up defeating Senator John McCain with 365 electoral votes, nearly one hundred more than the 270 needed to win (The New York Times, 2008).

Figure 1: President Obama handily defeated Senator McCain in 2008.

But more than having a good idea that the winner of the Democratic primary would go on to be the nation’s next president, the debates themselves were educational and downright entertaining. For several weeks two passionate candidates who agreed on much sparred on topics they disagreed on with great enthusiasm (and at times, even exasperation). Despite these disagreements, though, Senator Clinton, as expected, jumped to support Senator Obama once he earned the party’s nomination. She gave this support despite their, apparently many, disagreements. Did Americans take Clinton’s support of her former adversary seriously? For the most part, they did. But shouldn’t Clinton’s ethos be damaged by such a turn?

Following President Obama’s keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Fox News anchors made the comment that the Democratic Platform never mentions “God.” (See Jon Stewart’s take for a useful mashup of relevant clips) However in his DNC keynote address President Obama uses the word “scripture,” and even quotes a passage from the book of Jeremiah when he says “There is hope in your future” (ABS News, 2012). Criticism of Obama’s lack of God references is essentially an observation that he fails to position the United States as a Christian nation. But even phrases like “In God we trust” and “One nation under God” can refer to deities in multiple religions. Meanwhile, quoting a passage from the Bible is squarely Christian and, one could argue, establishing that particular faith as normative. So why did Fox News deride the President for not mentioning “God”? Shouldn’t such a glaring mistruth damage the network’s credibility among viewers?



ABS News. Transcript: President Obama’s DNC speech. September 6, 2012. Retrieved from:

The Daily Show. Hope and change 2 – last week this week. September 7, 2012. Retrieved from:—lastweek-this-week

The New York Times. Presidential map. December 9, 2008. Retrieved from:

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