Playing the Game: The Presidential Rhetoric of Ronald Reagan

By Mary E. Stuckey | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
The Great Communicator?

INTRODUCTION

There are many ideas and theories about the nature of Ronald Reagan's popular appeal: that his brand of symbolic politics was designed to appeal to the American middle class; 1 that Reagan "tapped into a powerful need to forget the struggles of the past and present"; 2 that "his metaphoric language taps into fads and feelings and beliefs of the average person on a subconscious level"; 3 or that he "gives us the past as the present." 4

All of these hold part of the truth. And all of them point to the importance of public communication as a factor in Reagan's popular and political success. Even more, none of them refer to the policy legacy of the Reagan years, a legacy that it is still too early to fully understand, but one in which the growth of the budget deficit is the clearest component. 5 It is ironic that the one clear policy message consistently contained within Reagan's public speech, the need to reduce government spending, is the single clearest failure of his administration. 6

Given the importance of rhetoric to the Reagan administration, studies of his rhetoric are crucial if we are to gain an accurate understanding of his administration. This study intends to fulfill the goal of looking at the broad contours of Reagan's presidential rhetoric in order to better understand the specifics of the Reagan years as well as the role of presidential rhetoric in our national

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