Political contradictions : discussions of virtue in American life




LaVally, Rebecca

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This dissertation asserts that American political culture faces a crisis of virtue and explores the role of citizens, journalists and politicians in fostering it. The historic election of Barack Obama on a platform of hope and change in 2008 suggests that Americans yearn for an infusion of virtue into political life. I assert, however, that we have lacked a lexicon of political virtue, or any systematic understanding of which virtues we value and which matter most to us. Nor have we understood whether groups who constitute key elements of our democracy—citizens, journalists, politicians, men and women, Democrats and Republicans—value virtues in politics similarly or differently. Without a working knowledge of the anatomy of virtue in the body politic, what is to prevent us from having to change again? By charting the virtue systems of these key groups, I have made explicit what is implicit to reveal that political virtue is more valued—and more present—than Americans likely realize. This exploration, I believe, contributes to the scholarship of political communication by enabling a fuller and more useful understanding of American political culture—and of the contradictions, curiosities, and surprises that enrich it.



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