Playing the Game: The Presidential Rhetoric of Ronald Reagan

By Mary E. Stuckey | Go to book overview

It is interesting in this regard to take note of the reception his "Farewell Address to the Nation" received. In that address, Reagan used much of the same style rhetoric that had contributed to his early success: the "iron triangle" section, which blamed Congress, the bureaucracy, and the media for the failures of his agenda; the cowboy imagery; and the theme of the restoration of American morale. All of these themes were staples in the Reagan rhetoric. Yet after this speech, Reagan was criticized for "petulance," particularly concerning his onslaught against the "iron triangle." 41 It is as if having watched Reagan take on a largely ceremonial role during the campaign and after George Bush's election, people were unwilling to allow him to return to a policy or agenda-setting role, and were uncomfortable with his attempt to do so. Reagan's restoration to a high place in the American political culture was dependent on a ceremonial and symbolic role; any effort to broaden that role jeopardized his restoration.


CONCLUSIONS

Rhetoric is a tool used to establish an interpretation, but it is a tool with limits. Reagan discovered the parameters of those limits in this period as he had never had before. An interpretation, to be plausible, must be able to interact with and explain the world without engendering to many contradictions. Reagan's dilemma during this period was that the outside environment no longer seemed amenable to his existing interpretation. Something had to give; what gave was Reagan's rhetorical dominance over events. From the time of the Iran/Contra revelations, Reagan's image was much more dependent upon external events, which he had only very limited control over, than it had ever been before.

An overview of the tactics Reagan used to establish control, the reasons why he lost control, and his limited success in regaining it, as well as a discussion of the implications of those tactics for our political system, are the basis of the final chapter.

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