April 4, 2007 — Through an interactive multimedia presentation at the Shorenstein Center’s brown-bag lunch, George Caudill, former director of advance for President Clinton, and Greg Jenkins, former director of advance for President George W. Bush, recalled their experiences of stage managing events for the world’s most powerful people.
Calling himself “the man behind the curtain” during the Clinton years, Caudill described the current state of politics as the age of the visual presidency. “What we see of the presidency is a contrivance,” he said. Caudill explained that the goal of the advance team is to shape the public’s perception through imagery, to the point that it doesn’t matter what the president’s policy is — “as long as the pictures look good.”
Having worked for competing candidates in the same election cycle, Caudill and Jenkins discussed the differences between staging events for the president versus a challenger, as well as the various tactics each camp uses in the other race: the race to create the better photo opportunity.
While Jenkins agreed that the central task of the Advance team is to determine the most effective way to package the politician’s message, ultimately he offered a slightly less cynical view of the job. “It’s not always tricks,” Jenkins said. “You are really trying to accomplish something.”