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Rhetorical Presidency of George H. W. Bush

Edited by Martin J. Medhurst

Publication Year: 2006

For George H. W. Bush, the distinction between campaigning (“politics”) and governing (“principles”) was crucial. Once in office, he abandoned his campaign mode and with it the rhetorical strategies that brought electoral success. Not recognizing the crucial importance of rhetoric to policy formation and implementation, Bush forfeited the resources of the bully pulpit and paid the price of electoral defeat. In this first-ever analysis of Bush’s rhetoric to draw on the archives of the Bush Presidential Library, scholars explore eight major events or topics associated with his presidency: the first Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin wall, the “New World Order,” Bush’s “education presidency,” his environmental stance, the “vision thing,” and the influence of the Religious Right. The volume concludes with a cogent of the 1992 re-election campaign and Bush’s last-gasp use of economic rhetoric.Drawing on the resources of the Bush Presidential Library and interviews with many of Bush’s White House aides, the scholars included in this tightly organized volume ask, How well did President Bush and his administration respond to events, issues, and situations? In the process, they also suggest how a more perceptive embrace of the art of rhetoric might have allowed them to respond more successfully.The Rhetorical Presidency of George H. W. Bush breaks important ground for our understanding of the forty-first president’s time in office and the reasons it ended so quickly.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Presidential Rhetoric and Political Communication


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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p. vii

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p. ix

The chapters in this book address different aspects of George Bush as a rhetorical president. That approach may strike some as strange inasmuch as George Herbert Walker Bush was not known for his eloquence, nor will he be remembered for his oratory. Even so, he was...

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p. xi

No book comes together without the assistance of many hands. We are particularly grateful to the archival staff at the George Bush Presidential Library, which was under the direction of Douglas Menarchik at the time this volume was prepared. Chief archivist...

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1: Why Rhetoric Matters: George H. W. Bush in the White House

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pp. 3-18

It may seem intuitively wrongheaded to use George Herbert Walker Bush as an example of why rhetoric matters. Many would find the opposite proposition more likely—that rhetoric did not matter to Bush...

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2: George Bush’s Struggle with the “Vision Thing”

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pp. 19-36

From his 1988 campaign until he left the White House, George Bush was heavily criticized for lacking a “vision.” Tom Collins of Newsday declared in August 1988, “the campaign lacks a soul, an ideal, or what George Bush unpoetically calls ‘the vision...

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3: And the Wall Came Tumbling Down: Bush’s Rhetoric of Silence during German Reunification

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pp. 37-55

In early November 1989 events of historical import were taking place in Germany. The Berlin Wall was being torn down, and refugees from throughout much of the Eastern Bloc were streaming into what was still known as West Germany to seek a new life of freedom. Yet the president...

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4: Agency and Agent in George Bush’s Gulf War Rhetoric

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pp. 56-80

Saddam Hussein had been president of Iraq for ten years when, in 1989, his government began to build up a military force along its border with the small, wealthy nation of Kuwait. In February 1990, Hussein denounced...

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5: The New World Order: President Bush and the Post–Cold War Era

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pp. 81-101

For over four decades, the world quivered under the specter of nuclear annihilation. The era of nuclear brinkmanship between the two superpowers, however, lost political fuel as the Soviet Union started imploding under the pressure of its own toppling economy. A world that had...

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6: Political Truancy: George Bush’s Claim to the Mantle of “Education President”

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pp. 102-118

When George Bush campaigned in 1988 to be the “education president,” he left people wondering, “But what are his actual goals?” Four years later, following two major legislative initiatives, two secretaries of education, a governors’ summit, and countless ceremonial speeches, that question...

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7: Prudence, Procrastination, or Politics: George Bush and the Earth Summit of 1992

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pp. 119-148

During the 1988 campaign George Bush dubbed himself the “Environmental President.”1 Four years later, in June 1992, Bush was asked to put his environmentalist label on the line at the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (also known as...

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8: George Bush and the Religious Right

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pp. 149-170

Beginning with the 1976 presidential campaign season, the Religious Right became a presence in national politics, aligning with the Republican Party in 1980 to elect Ronald Reagan.1 Religious conservative voters who once supported fellow evangelical Jimmy Carter decided by 1980 that he...

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9: Economically Speaking: George Bush and the Price of Perception

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pp. 171-196

James Carville’s ubiquitous slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid,” became the Achilles’ heel of the Bush reelection effort. The Democratic mantra resonated with American voters because of the perceived weakness of the...

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Afterword: Evaluating the Rhetorical Presidency of George H. W. Bush

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pp. 197-200

Insofar as presidents try to communicate their ideas to an audience, they are rhetorical presidents. Some clearly succeed in this endeavor better than others, but all are rhetorical, whether successful or not. The last quarter of the twentieth century was remarkable for featuring...


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pp. 201-202


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pp. 203-207

E-ISBN-13: 9781603445580
E-ISBN-10: 1603445587
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585444717
Print-ISBN-10: 1585444715

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 2 tables.
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Presidential Rhetoric and Political Communication
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OCLC Number: 608778383
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Rhetorical Presidency of George H. W. Bush

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Political leadership -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-1993.
  • Bush, George, 1924- -- Oratory.
  • Bush, George, 1924- -- Language.
  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century
  • Communication in politics -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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