This fall, Swatties return to campus—or arrive as freshmen for the first time—against the backdrop of a once-in-a-college-career event: a presidential election. When I pulled up to College Lane for my sophomore year in fall 1984, with another election looming, I counted myself a Ronald Reagan supporter, a rare breed on Parrish Beach.
Thirty-two years ago, as now, I was fascinated by the American political spectacle and its foremost institution of propaganda, the presidency. My politics evolved during my time at Swarthmore, leading to six years in Bill Clinton’s campaigns and on his White House staff, but my obsession with how our candidates market themselves has never wavered.
As a member of Swarthmore’s Peaslee Debate Society, I revered rhetorical skills but, over time, came to appreciate the more operatic elements of politics that trigger emotional response. In some ways, Reagan and his speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, combined forces as the Lin-Manuel Miranda of their time, the impact of Reagan’s words augmented by Michael Deaver, his visual impresario, an unlikely forebear to Andy Blankenbuehler, the Hamilton choreographer.
Read the rest of my piece on presidential stagecraft in the Age of Optics, from Reagan to Trump, in the Fall 2016 edition of the Swarthmore College Bulletin…