Presidents and Protesters: Political Rhetoric in the 1960s

By Theodore Otto Windt Jr. | Go to book overview

1
Presidential Rhetoric Perspectives

Political rhetoric creates the arena of political reality within which political thought and action take place. Among the politicians who seek to erect this linguistic colosseum, none is more powerful than the president of the United States. In national affairs presidents establish the terms of discourse. Presidents speak with an authority, especially in foreign affairs, that no senator or representative or citizen can match. Moreover, modern presidents have instant access to television to present their messages to the public and thus can set the initial terms for argument about issues and politics. Their messages create the arenas in which others will do rhetorical and political battle.

Equally important, discourse is a source of power for presidents.1 Contemporary presidents now have the option of "going public" over the head of Congress and directly to the American people to marshal public support for their policies.2 In doing so, presidents attempt to build the most persuasive case possible for the policies they advocate or the positions they defend. Politics is not an academic seminar. A president is not a distinguished professor occupying an endowed chair of American government. And the primary purpose of presidential rhetoric is not to educate, but to assist in governing, to provide one part of presidential leadership. Every recent presidency has been accused of "news management."3 Often, this accusation has been made by journalists and others because presidents have presented only their side of an issue before the pub-

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