Speaking with the People's Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion

Speaking with the People's Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion

Speaking with the People's Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion

Speaking with the People's Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion

Synopsis

The role of public opinion in American democracy has been a central concern of scholars who frequently examine how public opinion influences policy makers and how politicians, especially presidents, try to shape public opinion. But in Speaking with the People's Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion, Jeffrey P. Mehltretter Drury asks a different question that adds an important new dimension to the study of public opinion: How do presidents rhetorically use public opinion in their speeches?

In a careful analysis supported by case studies and discrete examples, Drury develops the concept of "invoked public opinion" to study the modern presidents' use of public opinion as a rhetorical resource. He defines the term as "the rhetorical representation of the beliefs and values of US citizens."

Speaking with the People's Voice considers both the strategic and democratic value of invoked public opinion by analyzing how modern presidents argumentatively deploy references to the beliefs and values of US citizens as persuasive appeals as well as acts of political representation in their nationally televised speeches.

Excerpt

On February 15, 2003, more than eight million people across the globe protested imminent US-led military action in Iraq. Involving more than sixty nations, the protests constituted the largest antiwar demonstration since the 1960s. in London, two million demonstrators set a city record for size of protest, and in Rome, three million protesters earned an entry in Guinness World Records as the largest documented antiwar rally to date. Across the United States, thousands of citizens staged demonstrations in more than one hundred cities, with approximately 150,000 people in San Francisco, 100,000 in New York, 30,000 in Los Angeles, 10,000 in Philadelphia, and 8,000 in Minneapolis. This global event led Republican pollster Frank Luntz to comment: “You can’t ignore it. You don’t have to accept it. You don’t have to follow it. But you can’t ignore it.”

But what, exactly, is “it”? Before considering how people should respond to the protests opposing war, a more fundamental question is how pollsters, citizens, congressional representatives, and even the president of the United States should interpret them. Luntz answered this question, perhaps reflexively, when he said, “The fact that these were the biggest demonstrations in three decades does say something about underlying public opinion around the world.” Similarly, President George W. Bush interpreted the protests as proof that “democracy is a beautiful thing” because “people are allowed to express their opinion. I welcome people’s right to say what they believe.”

Classifying public protests as manifestations of democratic expression is a rhetorical choice rather than a natural and self-evident reality. the protests represented “public opinion” not through some inherent quality but through the language Bush and Luntz used to make sense of them. Individuals often use rhetoric to construct, represent, craft, interpret, and invoke public opinion. in this book I use the phrase “invoked public opinion” as another way of saying “the rhetorical representation of the beliefs and values of us citizens.” Numerous scholars have analyzed political discourse for “the rhetorical mediation of public opinion,” “portrait[s] of public opinion,” “invocations of public opinion,” and even “constructions of public opinion.” My treatment, however, is more specific. My . . .

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