The Digital Presidency

A variation of Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. Instead of "Hope" at the bottom, it reads "Yes, We Can Twitter."
Image Courtesy of Jeroen Mirck

My project on the digital presidency focuses on how the president’s use of social media modifies speech delivery and cultivates public engagement. Rather than being a shift away from what Jeffrey Tulis called the rhetorical presidency, I argue that the digital presidency acts in parallel with the rhetorical presidency. While Tulis described the importance of radio and television, his focus emphasized how the president went over the head of Congress to speak directly to the people. The digital presidency involves a similar strategy; however, it is centered on how the president goes over the head of news media to reach the people. While Tulis labeled the former strategy as “going public,” the latter strategy is better described as “going digital.” This concept helps the public and scholars make sense of new forms of presidential communication largely initiated by Barack Obama and continued with the current administration.

I published an early articulation of the digital presidency, focused specifically on the visual and digital dynamics of President Obama’s enhanced State of the Union addresses from 2011 to 2014, in Rhetoric Across Borders, edited by Anne T. Demo. This chapter explored how digital media altered a traditional genre of presidential rhetoric. That book chapter, “Going Digital: Rhetorical Strategies in the Enhanced State of the Union,” is available here.  I presented a more theoretically comprehensive essay, “The Rise of the Digital Presidency,” at the biennial conference of the Rhetoric Society of America in May 2016, which I plan to revise for submission to a rhetoric journal. Building on this work, I am in the early stages of a project rethinking the relationship between text and context in the digital age.