The Prospect of Presidential Rhetoric

The Prospect of Presidential Rhetoric

The Prospect of Presidential Rhetoric

The Prospect of Presidential Rhetoric


Culminating a decade of conferences that have explored presidential speech, The Prospect of Presidential Rhetoric assesses progress and suggests directions for both the practice of presidential speech and its study.

In Part One, following an analytic review of the field by Martin Medhurst, contributors address the state of the art in their own areas of expertise. Roderick P. Hart then summarizes their work in the course of his rebuttal of an argument made by political scientist George Edwards: that presidential rhetoric lacks political impact.

Part Two of the volume consists of the forward-looking reports of six task forces, comprising more than forty scholars, charged with outlining the likely future course of presidential rhetoric, as well as the major questions scholars should ask about it and the tools at their disposal.

The Prospect of Presidential Rhetoric will serve as a pivotal work for students and scholars of public discourse and the presidency who seek to understand the shifting landscape of American political leadership.


Martin J. Medhurst, Baylor University

The field formerly known as speech has contributed substantially to our knowledge about presidential rhetoric. For the past ninety years, scholars of speech and communication have analyzed how language functions to achieve particular goals for speakers. Until quite recently, speech scholars thought of the primary object of their studies as rhetorical discourse, and the presidency as merely one site among many where the practice of rhetoric could be studied with profit.

It was not until the 1980s that communication scholars began to recognize and articulate a specific interest in the presidency and in presidential rhetoric as a specialization within the larger world of rhetorical studies. This recognition and articulation first occurred publicly in 1984 when Theodore Otto Windt Jr., writing in the Central States Speech Journal, identified presidential rhetoric as a distinct subfield within the discipline. Drawing on the previous seventy years of scholarship in speech and communication studies, Windt identified four broad categories of research in presidential rhetoric. Also in 1984, two communica-

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