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The Disney Fetish
Persuasion and Power
Good Jobs America
The Supreme Court on Unions
America's First Great Depression
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U.S. Military Intervention in the Post-Cold War Era
Education for Thinking
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The Gender Knot

Creatures of PoliticsCreatures of Politics

Media, Message, and the American Presidency

Michael Lempert and Michael Silverstein

Narrated by Clay Teunis

Available from Audible

Book published by Indiana University Press

It’s a common complaint that a presidential candidate's style matters more than substance and that the issues have been eclipsed by mass-media-fueled obsession with a candidate’s every slip, gaffe, and peccadillo. This book explores political communication in American presidential politics, focusing on what political insiders call "message." Message, Michael Lempert and Michael Silverstein argue, is not simply an individual’s positions on the issues but the craft used to fashion the creature the public sees as the candidate. Lempert and Silverstein examine some of the revelatory moments in debates, political ads, interviews, speeches, and talk shows to explain how these political creations come to have a life of their own. From the pandering "Flip-Flopper" to the self-reliant "Maverick," the authors demonstrate how these figures are fashioned out of the verbal, gestural, sartorial, behavioral—as well as linguistic—matter that comprises political communication.

Michael Lempert is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan and author of Discipline and Debate: The Language of Violence in a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.

Michael Silverstein is Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology, Linguistics, and Psychology and in the Committee on Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. His published works include Talking Politics: The Substance of Style from Abe to “W.”


Creatures of Politics makes for a fascinating read and an illuminating look into the complex realm of political rhetoric.”

Publishers Weekly

“Very few scholars can match [the authors'] detailed analysis of political and media discourse. The authors illuminate the subtle, multimodal, and intertextual mechanisms by which messages are constructed. Those who read their work will learn much about the semiotics of presidential campaigns as well as the cultural expectations that regulate and naturalize our electoral character contests.”

Presidential Studies Quarterly

“This is first-class scholarship, bringing very sophisticated and revelatory analytical perspectives to bear generatively on the stuff of presidential and electoral politics in the US.”

— Don Brenneis, University of California, Santa Cruz

Creatures of Politics covers different aspects of messaging with interesting discussions, and provides new ways of thinking about campaign coverage.”

Foreword Reviews

“A timely, fascinating, pathbreaking book by two outstanding scholars that is sure to appeal to a wide audience.”

—Richard Bauman, author of Voices of Modernity: Language Ideologies and the Politics of Inequality

“Speaks directly to interests and concerns of linguistic anthropologists, sociolinguists, and discourse analysts, [and] the insights into American political discourse that the book provides will be of interest to a broader audience.... Accessible enough that it should appeal to popular audiences interested in language and politics.”

—Adam Hodges, author of The "War on Terror" Narrative: Discourse and Intertexuality in the Construction and Contestation of Sociopolitical Reality

“This book captures better than any other the way 'messaging' works in the mediatic public sphere. The authors have developed a sophisticated analytic framework, while their lively account of the culture of presidential communication remains sensitive to both the comedy and the seriousness of its subject.”

—Michael Warner, Yale University

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University Press Audiobooks