Vote for me! A re-election editorial
A research assignment in which students write an editorial for or against the re-election of a selected president.
The president you have been assigned is running for re-election. You are the editor of a major national newspaper (you decide which one, or invent one) and it is time for your newspaper to endorse a candidate — either the incumbent or his opponent. Should your readers vote this president another term in office? Why or why not?
For the purposes of this assignment, let’s pretend that your president is running for re-election at the point at which he left office. So, for example, Abraham Lincoln would be running for re-election in April 1865, and we’ll pretend he wasn’t assassinated; Harry Truman would be running again in 1952, even though he was constitutionally ineligible to do so. Use your imagination. If your president was actually voted out of office, of course, you should write from the perspective of the election he lost.
Additionally, don’t worry about the president’s vice president or running mate, since in many cases that person would be hypothetical. Argue on the merits of the president alone.
To make your argument, you’ll need to draw on the president’s accomplishments while in office, his character, and the context of the time. What had he done — or not done — to deserve another term? What, if anything, had he done to make him unworthy of re-election? Was this a man people felt they could trust when he left office? Was the economy good or bad, and would (or should) the incumbent be blamed?
Be sure to remember your audience — the voters of the time. Think about what kind of arguments they would respond to. And, obviously, keep in mind that they don’t know what will happen the following year or decade; you’ll have to pretend that you don’t, either — although you’re allowed to “predict” the future based on events that had already occurred.
You will need to assess the following in evaluating a student’s editorial:
- How thoroughly does the student understand the events and context of the President’s administration?
- How much of the available evidence did the student use in making his or her argument? (A student arguing that Nixon should not be re-elected should probably mention Watergate, for example!)
- How well did the student make his or her argument? How persuasive was the argument? Did the student recognize and attempt to refute opposing arguments?
- How effectively did the student put him or herself in the proper historical time? How well did he or she write for an audience of that time?
Some Presidents will be harder to argue for/against than others. A student who gets Franklin Roosevelt or Richard Nixon will have a lot to work with; Millard Fillmore and Chester Arthur don’t provide as much. (Hint: Arthur is best known for cleaning out the White House attic.) A student writing about a do-nothing president will deserve some slack in the grading process; you may want to steer such a student away from the president himself toward the economy, events, and culture of the time. Conversely, a student with a better-known president could be expected to dig a little deeper and produce a somewhat stronger argument. You may want to consider this in assigning topics, giving your most able students the lesser-known presidents as a way of challenging them.
More explicitly than most research reports, this assignment asks students to make a coherent, persuasive argument. You may want to use the Web-based resources in the sidebar to discuss with students how to craft a persuasive argument, or refer students to them on their own.
- A study guide from the University of St. Thomas
- Writing a logical argument, from the On-Line Writing Lab, Utah Valley State College
- “Persuasive Writing,” From Scholastic — interactive mini-lessons on persuasive writing.
- An in-depth discussion of persuasive argument from the University of British Columbia Writing Centre