Ronald Reagan’s inability to sway the American public and press with his speeches at the former site of the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and, later, at the U.S. Air Force base in Bitburg, Germany, has been marked by many as the first major failure of the Great Communicator’s second term.
Richard J. Jensen highlights the qualities of the speeches that make them, in his estimation, models of presidential discourse. But he also looks at the setting for the speeches—political and historical—that doomed them despite their eloquence. Telescoping in from the broadest perspective on Reagan’s rhetorical career; to the circumstances surrounding the decision to make the speeches; to the drafting, delivery, and reception of the texts, Jensen contrasts these two speeches with two very successful ones Reagan had delivered in Normandy the previous year. The result is a vivid picture of a man and a moment in history. Students and all those interested in public discourse and the presidency will deeply benefit from this mature work by a major scholar of rhetoric.