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chapter 15 Report of the National Task Force on the Theory and Practice of the Rhetorical Presidency Chair: David Henry, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Philip Abbott, Wayne State University Davis W. Houck, Florida State University Mel Laracey, University of Texas at San Antonio Stephen E. Lucas, University of Wisconsin, Madison Shawn J. Parry-Giles, University of Maryland The processes and goals that guided participants in the 1970 National Developmental Project on Rhetoric served as the starting point for the task force’s work. In January and May meetings that year, “scholars from several fields considered rhetoric’s past and future, identified the problems in contemporary life which require applications of rhetorical concepts and methods, and recommended lines of research and educational programs needed to bring an effective rhetoric into relation to current and future needs.”1 In parallel fashion, the task force’s charge was to consider a series of critical topoi as a starting point for theorizing a rhetorical presidency for the twenty-first century. Relevant questions posed for the group’s Theory and Practice of the Rhetorical Presidency | 341 work included: What are the fundamental questions or issues? Which issues have dominated recent debate? Which are likely to become even more important in the future? What are the ten most important works currently written on the topic? Are the methodological options currently available adequate to the challenges of the topic? What should be the research agenda of the next ten years, and how should it be pursued? Discussion generated by these questions led to a focus on four issues that may inform the theory and practice of the rhetorical presidency in the twenty-first century. First, before we can project “what ought to be” in future research, it is essential to take stock of “what is.” Thus, we begin with a brief synthesis both of what may be taken as conventional wisdom about the rhetorical presidency and of challenges to that conventional wisdom, which we believe is in evolution . Next, we consider the nature of theory building generally, then posit the prospective utility of theory construction in relation to presidential rhetoric. Third, we explore topic areas and criteria for future scholarship, research that may simultaneously contribute to theory development and avoid the pitfalls of current challenges to conventional wisdom. And finally, in the manner of participants at the National Developmental Project on Rhetoric, we advance a series of recommendations. Taking Stock of the Rhetorical Presidency We do not intend to rehearse the entire history of research on presidential rhetoric, but it is essential to establish key markers of extant scholarship before we can project what may follow. To do so, we first offer a working definition of the rhetorical presidency, then attend to three challenges to current scholarship, scholarship grounded largely in the examination of case studies. Conventional wisdom holds that the rhetorical presidency is a product of the twentieth century generally and of the media age in particular. As James Ceaser, Glen E. Thurow, Jeffrey Tulis, and Joseph Bessette have it, three factors merged to transform the president’s role from “head of the government” to “leader of the people”: (1) during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, exhortation replaced “calm and deliberate discussion” as the dominant mode of political discourse; (2) with simultaneous developments in mass communication, aphorism surpassed argument as the primary content of presidential speech; and (3) campaigning for office became an almost continuous process. In combination, according to Ceaser and his colleagues, these features yield a circumstance in which “presidential speech and action increasingly reflect the opinion that speaking is governing.”2 342 | Task Force Reports As Mary E. Stuckey and Frederick J. Antczak explain, following formulation of this construct, research on the presidency divided often into two categories. Studies of the president’s institutional roles within the government and research on the president’s increased public functions, they maintain, suggest the value of research on rhetoric’s instrumental and constitutive functions alike. They laud Roderick Hart’s research, in part for delineating how the presidency “has been transferred from a formal, print-oriented world into an electronic environment specializing in the spoken word and rewarding casual, interpersonally adept politicians.” Presidents use the spoken word, J. Michael Hogan adds, to “set the agenda and to define the terms of debate” in policy deliberations. And as David Zarefsky reminds us, the power to set the terms of debate is often accompanied by an advantage to win the debate.3 On this collective view, then, rhetorical...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781603444613
Related ISBN
9781585446278
MARC Record
OCLC
654776099
Pages
400
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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