The Rhetorical Presidency of George H.W. Bush

The Rhetorical Presidency of George H.W. Bush

The Rhetorical Presidency of George H.W. Bush

The Rhetorical Presidency of George H.W. Bush


For George H. W. Bush, the distinction between campaigning ("politics") and governing ("principles") was crucial. Once in office, he abandoned his campaign mode and with it the rhetorical strategies that brought electoral success. Not recognizing the crucial importance of rhetoric to policy formation and implementation, Bush forfeited the resources of the bully pulpit and paid the price of electoral defeat. In this first-ever analysis of Bush's rhetoric to draw on the archives of the Bush Presidential Library, scholars explore eight major events or topics associated with his presidency: the first Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin wall, the "New World Order," Bush's "education presidency," his environmental stance, the "vision thing," and the influence of the Religious Right. The volume concludes with a cogent of the 1992 re-election campaign and Bush's last-gasp use of economic rhetoric.Drawing on the resources of the Bush Presidential Library and interviews with many of Bush's White House aides, the scholars included in this tightly organized volume ask, How well did President Bush and his administration respond to events, issues, and situations? In the process, they also suggest how a more perceptive embrace of the art of rhetoric might have allowed them to respond more successfully. The Rhetorical Presidency of George H. W. Bush breaks important ground for our understanding of the forty-first president's time in office and the reasons it ended so quickly.


The chapters in this book address different aspects of George Bush as a rhetorical president. That approach may strike some as strange inasmuch as George Herbert Walker Bush was not known for his eloquence, nor will he be remembered for his oratory. Even so, he was a rhetorical president in the sense that he, like all of his predecessors and successors, made choices about what to say, how to say it, where and to whom to say it. A president cannot escape rhetoric—as much as some would like to do so. For good or ill, all presidents are rhetorical presidents.

It has been my privilege to know George Bush personally. From 1993 to 2003, I served as the head of the Program in Presidential Rhetoric, a research unit within the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. During that period, I met the forty-first president of the United States on multiple occasions. My observations over the years have led to only one firm conclusion: George Bush is indeed as gracious and kind as many others have claimed. In the little part of the academy that I occupied, the former president took time to give a guest lecture in my class, to deliver a major evening lecture sponsored by our program, to drop in numerous times to greet the academics at our annual conference, and to endorse the participation of many of his former White House associates in the various activities of the Program in Presidential Rhetoric. We were privileged to host such people as Mariin Fitzwater, David Demarest, C. Boyden Gray, Curt Smith, and others from the Bush administration. None of that would have happened without the president's tacit approval.

The essays in this volume are another kind of testimony to the forty-first president because each is based on research conducted at the Bush Presidential Library, located on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. Taken together, they touch on many of the central issues facing George Bush from 1989 to 1993, starting with the “vision thing” and ending with the economy and the 1992 presidential election. I am under no illusion that George Bush will necessarily like all of the conclusions reached in these chapters. But knowing the nature of the man, I am thoroughly convinced that he will appreciate the honest effort exerted and the fact that his presidential library, less than a decade old at this writing, is already yielding useful data to researchers.

Martin J. Medhurst . . .

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