Rethinking the Rhetorical Presidency

Rethinking the Rhetorical Presidency

Rethinking the Rhetorical Presidency

Rethinking the Rhetorical Presidency

Synopsis

In The Rhetorical Presidency, Jeffrey Tulis argues that the president's relationship to the public has changed dramatically since the Constitution was enacted: while previously the president avoided any discussions of public policy so as to avoid demagoguery, the president is now expected to go directly to the public, using all the tools of rhetoric to influence public policy. This has effectively created a "second" Constitution that has been layered over, and in part contradicts, the original one. In our volume, scholars from different subfields of political science extend Tulis's perspective to the judiciary and Congress; locate the origins of the constitutional change in the Progressive Era; highlight the role of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and the mass media in transforming the presidency; discuss the nature of demagoguery and whether, in fact, rhetoric is undesirable; and relate the rhetorical presidency to the public's ignorance of the workings of a government more complex than the Founders imagined.

This book was originally published as a special issue of Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society.

Excerpt

ABSTRACT: The Tulis thesis becomes even more powerful when the constitutional
revolution he describes is put in its Progressive-Era context. The public had long
demanded social reforms designed to curb or replace laissez-faire capitalism, which was
seen as antithetical to the interests of ordinary working people. But popular demands for
social reform went largely unmet until the 1910s. Democratizing
political reforms, such
as the rhetorical presidency, were designed to facilitate “change” by finally giving the
public the power to enact
social reforms. The resulting political order has created sys
temic pressure for policy demagoguery in place of rational deliberation. Mass political
mobilization seems to be better achieved by contests of grand principle that pit the well
meaning supporters of obviously needed reforms against “villains and conspirators,” than
by technical discussions of the possibly counterproductive effects of those reforms
.

We advocate, not as ends in themselves, but as weapons in the hands of the people,
all governmental devices which will make the representatives of the people more easily
and certainly responsible to the people’s will.

Theodore Roosevelt (1912a, 120)

No good American denies the desirability of popular sovereignty and of a govern
ment which should somehow represent the popular will. While our national institutions
may not be the perfect embodiment of these doctrines, a decisive and a resolute popu
lar majority has the power to alter American institutions and to give them a more
immediately representative character.

Herbert Croly ([1909] 1911, 24)

Jeffrey Friedman, the Max Weber Senior Fellow of the Institute for the Advancement of the Social Sciences, Boston University, and a Visiting Scholar, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin, thanks Shterna Friedman for research and editing assistance and David Brooks, Dan Greenberg, Dan Klein, J. P. de Kok, Mike Murakami, and Ilya Somin for comments on earlier drafts.

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