Purdue Alumnus FA20 web - Flipbook - Page 39
BUILDING A LEGACY
A trail forged for the people
Kathryn Cramer Brownell, assistant professor of history, helps
interpret nearly a century of political back-and-forth played out
from the radio waves to the Twittersphere.
Brownell is the author of Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American
Political Life. Here are four quick takeaways from her research.
The Copycat Effect
If a party loses an election, they study their opponent’s media strategy and try to
emulate and surpass it in the next cycle. Republicans were critical of FDR going to the
radio and bypassing the press and going to Hollywood — but as soon as they were able to,
they replicated that strategy and did it even better. Then JFK sees what Eisenhower does
and tries to one-up him in terms of creating a celebrity personality. Nixon then studied
Kennedy to do the same.
Nixon 1960 vs. 1968
Nixon is fascinating because he believed that TV made the difference in the 1960 election. He studied Kennedy’s 1960 strategy and then Ronald Reagan in the ’60s as a rising star.
In his papers — there are actually documents where he’s studying his speeches where you
can see his handwritten notes. “We may think this is demagoguery, but it is very effective.
Reagan reaches the heart. We reach the mind. … Do we not miss an opportunity in failing to
reach the hearts and not just the heads?”
CO R N E L L C A PA /M AG NUM
Is media ever to blame for a candidate’s loss?
Richard Nixon blamed TV for his loss in 1960, but there were a lot of other factors at
play. There were many other reasons JFK squeaked out a win. The media is an easy scapegoat. It’s an easy way to deflect attention from the candidate’s shortcomings or missteps.
FDR had the radio; Trump has Twitter
FDR desperately needed to connect to Americans who were devastated by the economic
collapse and looking for a strong leader with a clear vision for the future. He wanted to connect to people directly and bypass his critics in the press. Over the past four years, Trump
has used Twitter to bypass criticism and connect his message directly to his supporters.
PUR D U E A LU MN I . O RG
When Jim Baird (A’67)
decided to run for Congress
in 2017, filling his father’s seat
in the Indiana General Assembly wasn’t on Beau Baird’s
(HHS’04, MBA’18) radar.
But having worked in the
background of his father’s
campaigns, the younger Baird
became intrigued by the possibility of being able to
effect change on behalf of Indiana’s 44th district — a
place Baird has called home his entire life.
“At no time did I think, ‘this is something I’d like to
do myself,’” says Baird. At the time, not only was Baird
pursuing a full-time career, he was also working on
master’s degrees from both Harvard and Purdue.
“Nonetheless, if I learned one thing from my
father, it would be the passion to serve our neighbors, community, and state,” reflects Baird. “Hence, I
made the decision to run for state representative to
preserve the significant progress Indiana has made
in the last decade and work to make sure the people
of district 44 have a strong voice in Indianapolis.”
Running for his father’s office wasn’t so much a
desire to build a family legacy as it was to carry forward the values his father instilled in him.
“Certainly, I admire the accomplishments of my
father and I have tremendous respect for the things
that he’s done,” shares Baird. “He has always taught
me to think for myself and to use my own experiences and knowledge to make appropriate decisions
under different circumstances.”
Baird even questions the premise of having run
for “his father’s seat.” Instead, Baird insists, “I never
looked at the decision from the perspective of
replacing my father. The office of state representative is the people’s seat — it belongs to no one except
And ultimately, having close contact with constituents is the greatest asset that Baird claims in office.
“Working on numerous campaigns helped me
understand the election process. However, nothing
can replace the knowledge gained from talking to
constituents face-to-face. It truly drives home the
understanding that different communities have different needs. It also made me realize that as you talk
to more and more people those issues of greatest
concern tend to come to the surface.”
FA L L 2020