Modern presidents most frequent the public podium, usually speak to more than their immediate audience, must address a myriad of topics, and can be relatively certain that their words are not transitory. 1 Radio and television have artificially amplified presidential speech. Studying the growth and characteristics of presidential rhetoric--the use of public remarks to mobilize political support--is essential for understanding presidential depictions of the presidency.
With few exceptions, the rhetoric of nineteenth-century presidents was designed to invoke patriotism and reinforce democratic principles. Campaigns were party-centered and partisan presidents could count on a party-oriented Congress. American politics today is dominated by televised images and a plebiscitary president. The rhetoric of twentieth-century presidents is designed to mobilize political support and shape the public dialogue on political issues. This chapter argues that presidential roles are an inevitable and well-suited part of this type of rhetoric.
From 1945 to 1975 the number of presidential speeches increased by almost 500%. 2 By some estimates, presidents now spend almost one-third of their time appealing to the public via press conferences, speeches, and public appearances. 3 The Inaugural Address and the State of the Union Address are customarily designed to articulate a sense of national identity and purpose. But even these speeches can promote a president's policy agenda by creating a favorable political climate. For instance, John Kennedy's Inaugural Address sought to tap a spirit of volunteerism and na-