Date of Award

12-2004

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Political Science

Major Professor

John M. Scheb

Committee Members

Anthony Nownes, Michael Fitzgerald, Dorothy McCauley

Abstract

Many facets of the institution of the presidency warrant examination. Individual presidents, cabinets, staffs, and first ladies have all been studied in-depth, but one aspect of the presidency remains fundamentally unexplored: the political activities of presidential children.

Role analysis using case studies was the method of examination used. Role analysis was the method used in early studies on first ladies and is replicated in this study on presidential children. The basic assumption is that all presidential children from Kennedy through Clinton have performed political roles. By examining the repeated political activities of the 24 presidential children, five political roles were designated. First is the role of symbol. Symbols serve to display the presidential candidate or president as a person that is a good family man, loving father, and someone with high moral integrity. Surrogates serve to stand in for the president when the president cannot be present. The bulk of a surrogate’s role takes place on the campaign trail. The increase in importance of primaries and the decrease in power of political parties have both made the need for campaign surrogates mandatory. Informal advisors/confidant(e)s provide opinions and advice to the president. Skeletons tend to embarrass the president. Finally, if an individual president child performs several of these roles equally, they are labeled as hybrids. Each of the 24 children from the Kennedy through Clinton is categorized in of the above roles and their actions and impacts are analyzed through expansive case studies.

The findings display that all presidential children have performed at least one of these political roles. It is interesting to note that these roles vary by the age of the child. Those children younger than 18 years old were almost exclusively symbols because they really had no other choice. The study also highlights that the use of symbols has become more important since the beginning of the media age of American politics. In many cases, images have become more important than messages, and younger children of presidents are utilized as image-makers to help increase the popularity of the candidate or president. Roles also vary by the sex of the child. Female children are often called upon to fill in for the first lady as hostess at the White House while the male children are not. Though a historical overview of the political activities of presidential children have been important political actors even before the dawn of the media age.

Finally, this study is significant to presidential studies for several reasons. First, it seems as if the presidential strategy of “going public” has been conceptualized too narrowly. Beyond presidents making personal appeals to the American people, “going public” may also include activities such as sending surrogates out to interact with the public. Second, presidential children can be seen as extensions of the presidents himself. This is extremely significant because it means that presidents with children, or more specifically, active children, may in fact have an advantage over presidents without children. If presidential power is personal, then having active children may increase the total sum of personal power. Third, having, children increase a president’s ability to manipulate or mold public perceptions of him through their symbolism. Finally, just as formal staff and advisor influence the decisions presidents make, so too do presidential children. Therefore, presidential children can perform multiple roles that do have an affect on the institution of the presidency. They can be physical surrogates, symbolic personifications, mouthpieces of Administrative policies, and protectors of the president, ambassadors overseas for the president, public defenders, or extensions of the president himself. Therefore, this study elucidates that although presidential children may not be formal players in the institution of the presidency, though their personal influence they impact the institution nonetheless.

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