Comm 8980, Presidential Rhetoric
Mary E. Stuckey

T/Th 1-2:15 705 GCB 1022
One Park Place South
Fall, 2004
Office hours: T/Th 11-12 and by appt

             This is a doctoral level seminar on presidential rhetoric. In this course, we will study relationships between presidential communication, audiences, and the institution of the American presidency.  Neither presidential action nor the “American” community can exist independently; each must be argued for, often in tension with one another.  Here, we will examine the nature of this tension, and what it means for American politics more broadly understood.

            In the process of that examination, we will analyze the communicative aspects of the American presidency and the communications of some American presidents.  We will also acquaint ourselves with the rhetorical devices used by presidents, the rhetorics that define the presidency, and we will practice the skills of rhetorical criticism.  

            You are encouraged to discuss course material with your fellow students, share ideas, exchange notes, and study together.  This does not exempt you from maintaining high standards of academic integrity.  All standards of academic honesty apply.  When in doubt, consult the University catalog and/or ask me.  See also the final pages of the syllabus.

            This syllabus provides a general plan for the course; deviations may be necessary. 

Course Requirements

            In addition to class attendance and participation, there are specific written requirements.  You are expected to meet all deadlines.  No late assignments will be accepted unless arrangements are made before the due date.

            ALL of your written work must be typed, double-spaced in 12-point type.  All standards of written English apply.
            Class participation: As in any seminar, the success of the course depends upon you. You are expected, at a minimum, to keep up with the reading, meet all course deadlines, and fulfill your responsibilities as a member of an academic community.  Failure to do so will result in a substantially lowered grade for the course.  Class participation is 10% of the course grade.

            Speechwriting paper: You will write a short paper (10-15 pages) on the process of speechwriting using data from the Carter library. It is due on October 14, and is worth 30% of the course grade (See page 4.)

            Reading presentation: You will take the lead in class discussion at least once during the semester.  Your performance will be worth 10% of the course grade.

            Research paper: You will write a 15-20 page paper on some aspect of presidential rhetoric. You will each present the gist of your paper late in the semester.  Papers are due December 9, and are worth 50% of the course grade. (See page 5.)



            You are expected to do the reading before the class when it is assigned.  The following books are required, and are available at the bookstore. Other material may be handed out in class.


~Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Deeds Done in Words

~Davis W. Houck, FDR and Fear Itself OR Thomas W. Benson, Writing JFK

~ Stephen Howard Browne, Jefferson’s Call for Nationhood

~ There is also a course pack available at BestWay.

Tentative Course Schedule (changes may be necessary)



August 24                                                       Introduction

Reading: Federalist 10, 15, 67-77; Stuckey and Antczak, “Deepening Vision”


August 26                                                       The Institution

Reading: Stephen Skowronek, “Presidential Leadership in Political Time”; Hager & Sullivan, “President-Centered and Presidency-Centered Explanations of Presidential Public Activity”; Harry Bailey, “Neustadt’s Theory Revisited: Toward the Two Faces of Presidential Power”; Fred I. Greenstein, “Nine Presidents in Search of a Modern Presidency.”


August 31                                                       Presidential Rhetoric and the Rhetorical Presidency

Reading: White Paper on “The Presidency and Democratic Deliberation”; Ceaser et al. “The Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency”; Theodore Windt, “Presidential Rhetoric: Definition of a Field of Study”; Martin J. Medhurst, “A Tale of Two Constructs”; White Paper on “The Rhetorical Presidency”; Karen Hoffman, “Going Public in the Nineteenth Century”


September 2                                                   NO CLASS, APSA



September 7                                                   Presidential Rhetoric and the Rhetorical Presidency (cont)

Reading: White Paper on “The Presidency and Democratic Deliberation”; Ceaser et al. “The Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency”; Theodore Windt, “Presidential Rhetoric: Definition of a Field of Study”; Martin J. Medhurst, “A Tale of Two Constructs”; White Paper on “The Rhetorical Presidency”;  Karen Hoffman, “Going Public in the Nineteenth Century”



September 9-14                      Public Opinion

Reading: White Paper on “The Presidency and Public Opinion”; Jeffrey Koch, “Political Rhetoric and Political Persuasion”; Richard Powell, “Going Public Revisited”; Jeffrey Cohen, “Presidential Rhetoric and the Public Agenda”; George Edwards, selection from On Deaf Ears.


September 16-21                    Speechwriting

Reading: Davis W. Houck, FDR and Fear Itself OR Thomas W. Benson, Writing JFK; Meena Bose, “Words as Signals”; Peggy Noonan, “Ich Bein ein Pain in the Neck”; Martin Medhurst, “Writing Speeches for Ronald Reagan”; Thomas W. Benson, “To Lend a Hand.”


September 23                                                 Visit to Archive

Reading: Nancy Kassop, “George W. Bush and the Presidential Records Act.”



September 28-30                                Inaugurals

Reading: Campbell & Jamieson, chapter 2 & 3; WAUDAG, “The Rhetorical Construction of a President”; Stephen Howard Browne, Jefferson’s Call for Nationhood


October 5-7                                                    Major Policy Address

Reading: Campbell & Jamieson, chapter 4; White Paper on “Presidential Communication to Congress”; David Lewis, “The Two Rhetorical Presidencies”; Matthew Corrigan, “The Transformation of Going Public”; Kathryn Olson, “The Controversy Over President Reagan’s Visit to Bitburg”; David Zarefsky, “Lincoln’s 1862 Annual Message”; Steven Goldzwig, “LBJ, The Rhetoric of Transcendence, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968"


October 12                                                      Vetoes

Reading: Campbell & Jamieson, chapter 5; John Woolley, “Institutions, the Election Cycle, and the Presidential Veto”;


October 14                                                      NO CLASS; SPEECHWRITING PAPERS DUE


October 19-21                                                Foreign Policy

Reading: Philip Wander, “The Rhetoric of American Foreign Policy”; Michael Smith, “Going  International”; Thomas Hollihan, “Public Controversy and the Panama Canal Treaty”; Denise Bostdorff, “The Evolution of a Diplomatic Surprise”; Robert Kraig, “The Tragic Science”; Timothy Cole, “Avoiding the Quagmire”


October 26-28                                                War and Crisis

Reading: Campbell & Jamieson, chapter 6; Robert Ivie, “Presidential Motives for War”; White Paper on “Presidential Rhetoric in Times of Crisis”; Theodore Otto Windt, “The Presidency and Speeches on International Crisis”; Jim A. Kuypers, “Presidential Crisis Rhetoric and the Press in the Post-Cold War World”;Robert McMahon, “Rationalizing Defeat”


November 2                                                    Scandal and Impeachment

Reading: Campbell & Jamieson, chapter 7 & 8; Mary Stuckey & Shannon Wabshall, “Sex Lies and the Presidency”; Jodi Dean, “Making (It) Public”; Blaney & Benoit, “The Clinton Scandals”; Stuckey, “Strategic Failures”;


November 4                                                    Pardons and Farewells

Reading: Campbell & Jamieson, chapter 9 & 10; Hostetler,


November 9                                                    NO CLASS; MEETINGS ABOUT PAPERS


November 11                                                  NO CLASS, NCA


November 16-18                                 The Presidential Spectacle

Reading: Bruce Miroff, “From Midcentury to Fin-de-Siecle,” Shawn Parry-Giles & Trevor Parry-Giles, “Collective Memory”; Denise Bostdorff, “George W. Bush’s Post-September 11 Rhetoric”


November 23-25                                 NO CLASS; THANKSGIVING        


November 30-

December 7                                                    PRESENTATIONS


December 9                                                    Final Paper Due




Due October 14

30% of course grade


            The ability to negotiate your way through archives is an important part of learning to do good research.  This assignment is one way to assist you in gaining competence in and comfort with archival research.  The class will be meeting at the Carter Library on September 23.  At that time, you will be given a basic introduction to the archive and how to research in it.  You will be responsible for returning to the Carter Library, finding a speech or set of speeches, and researching the speechwriting process. You will be expected to supplement the archival research with other important elements of the research process (theory and history, for instance) in order to produce a thoughtful, cogent, well-written analysis of the speech or set of speeches.

            You should be able to address questions such as: how is rhetorical analysis assisted by archival data?  What si the role of such data in rhetorical analysis?  How does having access to such data change the way we understand presidential speeches? 

I am happy to read drafts of your papers, provided you have proof-read them. I will read any draft–and as many drafts–as you wish, provided that I receive them no later than October 7. 


December 9
50% of course grade


            In this 15-20 page paper, you may select any topic that interests you, provided that is has clear relevance to the topic of presidential rhetoric.  I expect a coherent, organized, thoughtfully written essay that clearly conveys both an argument and a conclusion.

            All topics must be cleared with me in advance.  Topics are due September 15.

            Your papers should be typed, double-spaced, with margins of one inch on all sides. Pay attention to grammar, syntax, spelling and punctuation. Proofread your work. Corrections in pen are acceptable. The easier it is to read your work the happier I will be. Please do not use plastic or paper covers; simply staple your paper in the upper left hand corner. You will be best served by making your argument as fully and as economically as possible.  You will not get extra points for long essays; nor will you be well served by failing to develop your ideas fully.  My best advice is to say all that you have to say, and then stop.

            I am happy to read drafts of your papers, provided you have proof-read them.  I will read any draft–and as many drafts–as you wish, provided that I receive them no later than November 13.       


I cannot decide for you what argument(s) you may wish to make, but I will be more than happy to help you find a general area or to assist you in refining an argument.  The course reading offers a good source for ideas; you should also look at back issues of journals such as Rhetoric and Public Affairs, Presidential Studies Quarterly, QJS, and the regional communication journals.  Some possible general topics include:


~theoretically grounded criticism of a presidential speech

~study of public opinion

~comparison of speeches

~analysis of a specific rhetorical tactic as it operates in one or a number of presidential speeches

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