The President as Interpreter-In-Chief

By Mary E. Stuckey | Go to book overview

it did not seem to be hurting Bush with the American public until his second year in office, when the Gulf crisis abroad and recession at home reduced the euphoria produced by events in Eastern Europe during Bush's first year. While Bush got off to a good start, winning considerable credit for his ability to manipulate symbols, 73 stroke Congress, 74 and separate himself from Ronald Reagan, 75 this start was difficult to maintain as he began moving (or not moving) on domestic policy. By mid-1989Bush encountered criticism for overemphasizing symbols and for moving too slowly on issues such as foreign policy, the Tower nomination, and the Alaskan oil spill. 76

Despite this criticism, in terms of his personal popularity, Bush probably would not have done better to take an activist role from the beginning, nor is it clear that his best strategy would have been quick and decisive action on every issue. 77 Instead, Bush's cautious strategy may have let him effectively minimize political damage and maximize potential support in an environment of political and fiscal constraints. That strategy is less viable now than it was during the early days of his presidency, and Bush would do well to adapt his strategy to a changing political climate.


Conclusions

Both Ronald Reagan and George Bush use rhetoric and rhetorical strategies that are well suited to television. They use simple, short words that supplement rather than intrude on television visuals; a conversational, informal style of presentation; and words that convey a sense of familiarity and comfort with the role of president.

While Bush does not use the evocative rhetoric that characterized the Reagan administration, he is clearly capable of using both his speeches and his formal presentation of self to garner and maintain public support. Both Reagan and Bush excel at control of the media, and in understanding media requirements and using those requirements to the president's best advantage. There is nothing inherently wrong with this ability; good communication requires the ability to understand and use the dominant medium of communication. And in today's society, the dominant medium is undoubtedly television.

But there is some doubt whether the television medium is best suited, or even well suited, to the requirements of political communication in a democracy. This issue, made obvious and important by the rhetorical successes of the Reagan and Bush administrations, is the topic of the concluding chapter.

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