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The Evolutionary Rhetorical Presidency

Tracing the Changes in Presidential Address and Power

Ryan Lee Teten

This book is an evolutionary examination of the rhetoric of the President of the United States, from George Washington to George W. Bush. It provides a close analysis of the history and content of inaugural addresses, State of the Union addresses, presidential proclamations, and executive orders in order to trace the changes in their use and impact from their origin to the present day. Content analysis of these forms of executive address are combined with case studies and illustrations to provide a complete look at the way that – contrary to the widely held ascription to a clear «traditional» versus «modern» divide – the presidents of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries have all contributed to the rhetorical tools and powers that the current president wields in the execution of his duty. The Evolutionary Rhetorical Presidency is widely useful not only for standard governmental classes on, for example, the Presidency or on political communication, but also for courses in history, leadership studies, and rhetoric.


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CHAPTER II Speaking to the People: The Use of Popular Address The President is the people’s lobbyist. —Hubert H. Humphrey There is but one national voice in the country and that is the voice of the President. —Woodrow Wilson SCHOLARS OF both communication and political science have examined the ways that the executive utilizes his position and time as president in order to provide leadership and service to the American people. “Presidents, of course, are not content to sit and passively read and follow public opinion. They are actively engaged in efforts to lead public opinion to support them and their policies” (Edwards and Wayne, 1999, 3). The principal way to en- gage and lead the public comes from rhetorical leadership, or the power of presidential words in making successful political policy. Indeed, it is “with words minds are changed, votes acquired, enemies labeled, alliances secured, unpopular programs made palatable, and the status quo suddenly unveiled as unjust and intolerable” (Rodgers, 1987, 4). It is the “sound of leadership” that originates at the junction of the office of the presidency and the presentation of policy proposal or political communication. Roderick Hart explains that “Presidents exert influence over their environment only by speaking, and it is largely through speaking their environment responds to them” (Hart, 1984, 5). It is not enough to see presidential speech as attempting leadership how- ever. Because of station and authority, when the president speaks, his “public The Evolutionary Rhetorical Presidency 32 speech no longer attends the...

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