The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents
Presidential Studies - Rhetoric
6 x 9, 248 pp.
7 tables., 3 graphs.
Pub Date: 08/21/2006
Presidential Rhetoric and Political Communication
  cloth
Price:        $45.00 s

978-1-58544-522-6
  paper
Price:        $22.95

978-1-58544-639-1
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The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents

By Colleen J. Shogan

Although sometimes decried by pundits, George W. Bush’s use of moral and religious rhetoric is far from unique in the American presidency. Throughout history and across party boundaries, presidents have used such appeals, with varying degrees of political success. The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents astutely analyzes the president’s role as the nation’s moral spokesman.

Armed with quantitative methods from political science and the qualitative case study approach prevalent in rhetorical studies, Colleen J. Shogan demonstrates that moral and religious rhetoric is not simply a reflection of individual character or an expression of American “civil religion” but a strategic tool presidents can use to enhance their constitutional authority.

To determine how the use of moral rhetoric has changed over time, Shogan employs content analysis of the inaugural and annual addresses of all the presidents from George Washington through George W. Bush. This quantitative evidence shows that while presidents of both parties have used moral and religious arguments, the frequency has fluctuated considerably and the language has become increasingly detached from relevant policy arguments.

Shogan explores the political effects of the rhetorical choices presidents make through nine historical cases (Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Buchanan, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Carter). She shows that presidents who adapt their rhetoric to the political conditions at hand enhance their constitutional authority, while presidents who ignore political constraints suffer adverse political consequences. The case studies allow Shogan to highlight the specific political circumstances that encourage or discourage the use of moral rhetoric.

Shogan concludes with an analysis of several dilemmas of governance instigated by George W. Bush’s persistent devotion to moral and religious argumentation.

COLLEEN J. SHOGAN, who holds a doctorate in political science from Yale University, is an assistant professor of government at George Mason University. She is also the recipient of the American Political Science Association Congressional fellowship.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Shogan’s argument that moral rhetoric stems more from the political context of a president than from his personality or leadership style is right on the mark. . . . a valuable contribution to the literature on presidential rhetoric.”--Terri Bimes, Associate Director, Center for American Political Studies, Harvard University

“Shogan’s argument that moral rhetoric stems more from the political context of a president than from his personality or leadership style is right on the mark. . . . a valuable contribution to the literature on presidential rhetoric.” --Terri Bimes, Associate Director, Center for American Political Studies, Harva

“…carefully researched and thoroughly revealing look at the strategic role moral rhetoric has played in presidential leadership…Shogan portrays presidential moral rhetoric as a dual-edged sword, a potentially powerful weapon for energizing public support and eliminating political opposition, but also a blunt instrument that destroys the ability of the president to forge compromises or reverse course once wielded…Shogan identifies a tension between the individual moral beliefs of presidents and the political use of those beliefs…The long-term power of Shogan’s research lies in its illustrative answer to an age-old question: does political rhetoric actually matter…To this, Shogan provides a deeply satisfying answer. The rhetorical choices presidents make both shape future political contexts and constrain the range of legitimate options they have within those contexts. By placing moral rhetoric within the context of long-term presidential leadership, Shogan ties its value to what Richard Neustadt saw as the essence of Presidential power: the capacity for sustained leadership.” --TCS Daily

“…a very readable and informative book that should be of interest to both scholars and lay readers.” --Political Science Quarterly

“Shogan offers an insightful, thought-provoking analysis that significantly advances our understanding of the rhetorical choices of presidents past, present, and future.” --Perspectives on Politics

" . . . offers a relevant, theoretically rich discussion of rhetorical strategies pursued by presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. . . . Shogan offers an insightful, thought-provoking analysis that significantly advances our understanding of the rhetorical choices of presidents past, present, and future." --Perspectives on Politics (American Politics)

Shogan’s study of moral rhetoric and the presidency is comprehensive, insightful and informed. The book brings together an impressive array of overlapping issues: changes in patterns of rhetoric over time; the strategic uses of moral rhetoric; and the costs and benefits to the polity of these kinds of appeals. The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents is also a moral example because Shogan is so fair to those with whom she disagrees.” --Jeffrey K. Tulis, University of Texas

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