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On Behalf of the President

Presidential Spouses and White House Communications Strategy Today

by Lauren A. Wright

 

First Ladies are as influential in American politics as elected officials.

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Cover image for On Behalf of the President

April 2016

Praeger

Pages 198
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Politics, Law, and Government/General
  Current Events and Issues/Politics and Government

White House expert Lauren A. Wright identifies, explains, and measures the impact of the expanding role of presidential spouses in the White House and presidential campaign communications strategy, with a focus on the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

More than any other time in history, the First Lady now bears responsibilities tantamount to those of any high-ranking cabinet member. This fascinating book documents the growing presence of the president's wife in the communications strategies of the last three administrations, explaining why their involvement in a campaign has been critical to its survival. The book explores how the First Lady serves to persuade public opinion, make personal appeals to the public on behalf of the president, and promote initiatives that serve as uncontroversial frames for controversial policies.

The author delves into political discussions about what makes presidents and presidential candidates likable, what draws public support to their agendas, and why spouses appear to be more effective in these arenas than other surrogates or even the presidents themselves. The content features dozens of interviews with former White House staff and communications strategists; in-depth analysis of almost 1,700 public speeches made by Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama; and surveys testing the effect of public relations strategies involving spouses on political opinion.

Features

  • Examines the First Lady's role of enhancing the president's public image and expanding public support for his policy agenda
  • Focuses on the communications and public relations role of presidential spouses
  • Analyzes every documented public speech made by a first lady since 1992
  • Includes interviews with many prominent former White House staff members, journalists, and presidential campaign strategists
Author Info

Lauren A. Wright, PhD, is director of investor relations at NV5 Global, Inc., and a board member of the White House Transition Project. Wright is the winner of the John Allen Easley Medal and Award for Excellence in Religion and the Elizabeth Phillips Award for the best essay in women's and gender studies, and she was nominated for the George C. Edwards III Award in presidency research. She received her doctorate in American government and political methodology from Georgetown University.

Reviews/Endorsements

Endorsements

"Lauren Wright gives us a scholarly, rich, and thoroughly readable account of the dynamic role that First Ladies have played in the life of the U.S. presidency. A hot topic not only because one of our first ladies now seeks the presidency herself, this study is vital to understanding how the White House really works."—Mike McCurry, Former White House Press Secretary, 1995–98

"Lauren Wright’s On Behalf of the President shines a scholarly light on a subject matter that largely has been left in the dark: our First Ladies. Thanks to her extensive research and her ability to make the results accessible to anyone who ever admired the first lady, readers will soon discover that these remarkable women do more than host state dinners or serve afternoon tea. Wright’s work is both historically important and culturally entertaining."—Jean Becker, Chief of Staff to President George H. W. Bush; former deputy press secretary to First Lady Barbara Bush

"First Ladies are popular idealizations of motherhood on a presidential pedestal. They do social good, reach out to others, and demonstrate the human side of the administration. But they are also used surreptitiously by the White House to advance the president's political and policy agenda. Lauren Wright explains the how and why of this process in an extremely well-written and provocative analysis. This book is a major contribution to our understanding of the contemporary presidency."—Stephen J. Wayne, Professor of Government, Georgetown University

"Lauren Wright takes a topic that is often treated as fluff—the persona of the First Lady—and gives it the serious treatment it deserves. Her work is lively, readable, and persuasive."—Anne Kornblut, Author of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win

"Lauren Wright brings much-needed scrutiny to the long neglected topic of modern First Ladies. Her argument—that strategists deploy presidential spouses to achieve critical policy objectives—has wide-ranging implications for understanding national politics and presidential power. Readers can never underestimate the role of First Lady again."—Michele K. Gillespie, Presidential Professor of Southern History, Wake Forest University

"With her rigorous research and careful ear for rhetoric, Lauren Wright unveils an underappreciated and undeniable force in our national conversation: First Ladies, a unique set of immensely influential and popular yet unelected political leaders. Wright’s close examination of a truth so many have overlooked reveals why it’s important for political scientists, pundits, and people who vote to remember that there’s room for two behind the bully pulpit."—Stephen Krupin, Director of Executive Communications at SKDKnickerbocker and Director of Speechwriting on President Obama’s re-election campaign

"Lauren Wright has achieved that rarest of scholarly contributions: to address a deeply familiar subject (First Ladies, in this case) and indelibly shift our perspective. All readers of this beautifully crafted book will come away with an enduring appreciation of how the modern presidential spouse can both enhance a president’s image and advance White House policy priorities."—Rogan Kersh, Provost and Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Wake Forest University

"Throughout our history, first ladies of the United States have used their unique platform to affect change and advance our society. With their proximity to power, convening authority, and high visibility they have influenced our politics, domestic policy, and global diplomacy. I applaud Lauren Wright for her excellent book, On Behalf of the President, that analyzes the evolving attitudes and expectations of this position as well as the forces that have empowered—and challenged—a first lady’s ability to shape her work and support the president and the nation."—Anita B. McBride, Executive in Residence, American University School of Public Affairs; former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush

In the News

Here’s Evidence That Melania Trump Could Actually Boost Donald Trump’s Popularity, The Washington Post, 3/30/2016

What Are We Going to Call Bill Clinton if Hillary is Elected President?, USA Today, 6/7/2016

Look Inside

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