Reflections on Rhetoric
Perhaps no other presidential candidate or sitting president has attracted as much attention from rhetorical critics as Barack Obama. Much of this work was conceived and written during Obama’s initial presidential campaign, or relatively early in his two terms in office. This book provides rhetorical critics an opportunity to revisit their published work on Obama in light of events that have occurred since its publication. In each chapter, these eminent critics begin by summarizing the analysis and conclusions in their original essays on Obama, and then reflect on their previous conclusions, revising or extending them in response to developments since the publication of the original work. The chapters provide a glimpse into the inventional strategies of practicing critics and into some of the ways that that critical insights may evolve over time. Scholars rarely have an opportunity to publish essays that reflect on their own previous work, even though few resources can be of greater use to both beginning critics and to established scholars seeking to continue to hone and reflect on their critical practice. This book, then, makes an important contribution not only to the existing literature on the 44th president of the United States, but also and perhaps most significantly to the study of the art and craft of rhetorical criticism.
Chapter Seven: Testing the Narrative Signature Perspective: The Case of Obama and Health Care Reform (Martin J. Medhurst)
c h a p t e r s e v e n Testing THE Narrative Signature Perspective The Case of Obama and Health Care Reform MARTIN J. MEDHURST Baylor University Testing the Narrative Signature Perspective Martin J. Medhurst I did not come to the study of Barack Obama’s rhetoric as a virgin. I have been studying presidential discourse for 40 years and have penned essays on Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, and Obama. My initial interest in Obama was centered on his religious rhetoric, and I wrote a paper which I delivered to professional audiences at Texas A&M and Penn State on Obama’s appeals to religion in the run- up to the 2008 election.1 I even wrote a book proposal on the topic. But, as so often happens, life intervenes. I was invited to deliver a paper at a conference honoring my friend David Zarefsky upon his retirement from Northwestern University. I immediately dropped everything else to focus on this opportunity. It is not every day that one of the field’s icons retires, even less often that we celebrate their accomplishments. I wanted to write something special. I did not start with Obama’s inaugural address in mind nor with any particular method. I come from the school of thought that basically eschews preconceived methods. Instead I “find” my method within the contours of the text in context, doubtless a practice inherited from my teachers at Penn State and my late colleague Michael Leff.2 So when...
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