Playing the Game: The Presidential Rhetoric of Ronald Reagan

By Mary E. Stuckey | Go to book overview
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programs and, by communicating his view of the world, is making an attempt to both influence and educate the American people. He is also adept at using appeals to emotion and may forsake education for debate points. It is here that his spoken rhetoric may differ from his written speeches, and it is precisely this important point that this analysis is incapable of resolving.


This study has revealed both similarities and differences among presidential candidates. It is clear, for instance, that some tactics are common to the genus "politician." All candidates during a primary emphasize party loyalty. All candidates base their qualification, in part, on claims that "I know what the country ought to do, and I have plans to get there," although there is variation in how detailed discussions of these plans are. In short, the conventional wisdom that political appeals are based on amorphous and non-controversial statements involving more symbol than substance is borne out by the evidence.

The evidence also indicates things neglected by conventional wisdom, however. Babbitt's rhetoric, for instance, is a good example of the dangers of negative rhetoric. Negativism may detach the audience from something, but to be effective, it must also attach the audience to something. Discrediting your opposition is not enough to reflect credit upon yourself. Babbitt is also reflective of the importance of the speaker's status. When he uses Reagan-style rhetoric, it is with limited success. He does not seem to be able to make the substance of those arguments convincing. The same arguments, coming from Ronald Reagan, who had attained a national reputation, were given much more attention. It is clear that rhetoric involves who is speaking as much as what is being said. From this, it is clear that while other politicians may use the tactics and rhetorical structures of a Kennedy, a Roosevelt, or a Reagan, these tactics and structures alone will not make that candidate a Kennedy, a Roosevelt, or a Reagan.

Gephardt, on the other hand, is a very good example of the importance of providing a symbolic context or theme through


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Playing the Game: The Presidential Rhetoric of Ronald Reagan


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