The Presidency and the Promotion of Domestic Crisis: John Kennedy's Management of the 1962 Steel Crisis

By Bostdorff, Denise M.; O'Rourke Daniel J. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

The Presidency and the Promotion of Domestic Crisis: John Kennedy's Management of the 1962 Steel Crisis


Bostdorff, Denise M., O'Rourke Daniel J., Presidential Studies Quarterly


In March 1962, the United Steelworkers of America reached an early labor settlement with the U.S. steel industry. The contract included no increase in wage rates, but provided fringe benefit improvements that amounted to an increase of 10 cents an hour or 2.5 percent.(1) President John Kennedy was particularly pleased, for his administration had played a major role in the negotiations. Publicly and privately, Kennedy had advocated an "early labor settlement consistent with price stability in steel" as a means to avoid inflation and to encourage economic growth.(2) The new labor contract indicated that the president's call for wage restraint on the part of the union and corresponding price restraint on the part of the steel industry would be heeded.

Unfortunately for Kennedy, success was short-lived. On April 10, at 5:45 p.m., Roger Blough of U.S. Steel came to the Oval Office and handed the president a four-page announcement that the company already had delivered to the media. The press release stated that U.S. Steel would, effective the following day at noon, raise the price of steel by $6.00 per ton.(3) Kennedy was furious, for the price increase not only placed his economic program in jeopardy, but also posed a threat to his leadership. At the president's behest, the United Steelworkers had agreed to a modest settlement and, by the time of Blough's announcement, already had signed contracts with the major steel corporations and hence legally committed themselves.(4) To make matters worse, U.S. Steel's announcement of a price increase was immediately followed by similar announcements from other steel companies.(5)

In the days that followed, Kennedy used the bully pulpit of the presidency to escalate a steel price increase into a crisis that threatened the freedom and security of all Americans. Public pressure built until Friday, April 13, when Bethlehem Steel was the first to roll back prices; U.S. Steel quickly followed.(6)

In this article, we treat Kennedy's management of the steel crisis as an exemplar of domestic crisis promotion, whereby presidents explicitly advance a claim of crisis or implicitly treat a domestic issue as a crisis through their public rhetoric. The word "crisis" defines an issue as especially threatening, which focuses public attention on a problem. Unlike the term "war," crisis implies a short-term issue of urgency, a conflict that will be resolved fairly quickly and with limited sacrifice.(7) In April 1962, Kennedy's public statements escalated the steel controversy into a crisis; he made it known, through word and symbolic deeds, that his administration would not stand for the steel companies' behavior. Although Kennedy had little or no legal authority to force a price rescission, his crisis promotion allowed him to obtain one nonetheless. We believe our examination of the steel crisis as domestic crisis promotion is useful for two basic reasons.

First, numerous communication studies of presidential crisis rhetoric exist, but almost all of these deal with foreign policy issues.(8) In contrast, only a handful of scholars have examined domestic crises. Although these studies have been most insightful, their focus has been on something other than the characteristics of domestic crisis rhetoric. For example, David Zarefsky examined Johnson's value appeals during the summer riots of 1964-68, while Dan Hahn concentrated on the sermonic qualities of Carter's "crisis of confidence" speech.(9) In two studies--one authored by Steven Goldzwig and George Dionisopoulos, and another by Theodore Windt--scholars traced Kennedy's shift from passive support to public advocacy of civil rights, whereas a third study by John Murphy analyzed how the president sought to defuse the civil rights issue, rather than promote it as a crisis.(10) Amor Kiewe's 1994 edited work, The Modern Presidency and Crisis Rhetoric, includes four fine case studies of domestic crisis, but these authors, too, have goals other than discerning the characteristics of domestic crisis discourse. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Presidency and the Promotion of Domestic Crisis: John Kennedy's Management of the 1962 Steel Crisis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.