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“Seeing What Has Always Been”: Opening Study of the Presidency

  • Georgia Duerst-Lahti (a1)

The 2008 presidential election has been widely touted as historic because a woman and an African American became viable candidates for a major party, thereby thrusting gender and race into the spotlight. Of course, gender and race have always been present as informal criteria for U.S. presidential candidates. At the constitutional founding, only white propertied men with sufficient affluence to be gentlemen of leisure were deemed suitable for national office (Wood 1991). Following the traditions of kings and military leaders, the executive was assumed to be an elite man and the institution itself became associated with men and fashioned in the preferences of its founders (March and Olsen 1989). For the presidency, founding fathers sought a heroic man, capable of leading in the extra-legal realm that they recognized could not be fully anticipated in law (Kann 1998). Since then, presidential campaigns have always been about what kind of man should hold an office predicated upon masculinity. While certainly presidential candidates' characters have been most discussed, the quality of each candidate's masculinity has been embedded in the sizing up of presidential timber, character, and the person.

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