Printer Friendly
The Free Library
22,728,043 articles and books

All the Presidents' Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency.

CAROL GELDERMAN, All the Presidents' Words: The Bully Pulpit bully pulpit
An advantageous position, as for making one's views known or rallying support: "The presidency had been transformed from a bully pulpit on Pennsylvania Avenue to a stage the size of the world" 
 and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Walker, 1997), 221 pp., $23.00 hardcover (ISBN ISBN
International Standard Book Number

ISBN International Standard Book Number

ISBN n abbr (= International Standard Book Number) → ISBN m 

Carol Gelderman offers an examination of the process of speech writing from the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration There have been two Presidents of the United States with the surname "Roosevelt":
  • Theodore Roosevelt Administration, the 26th President of the United States, 1901 - 1909.
and his younger distant cousin
  • Franklin D.
 through the first term of Bill Clinton. Employing a case study approach, the work attempts to illustrate the impact of separating speechwriters from presidents and how it "has changed the functions of the speeches--and, to some extent, the very nature of the presidency" (p. x).

Although Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to use the office as a bully pulpit, Gelderman regards his cousin Franklin as the prototype president for the modern rhetorical age. Because of his gift of teaching and his careful attention to the content of words, the four-term president was successful at changing the nation's mood from isolation to mobilized participant in world affairs Noun 1. world affairs - affairs between nations; "you can't really keep up with world affairs by watching television"
international affairs

affairs - transactions of professional or public interest; "news of current affairs"; "great affairs of state"
. Several of Roosevelt's speeches over the period from 1937 to 1940 are analyzed to verify the latter achievement including the quarantine speech The Quarantine Speech given by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on October 5, 1937 in Chicago calling for an international "quarantine of the aggressor nations" as an alternative to the political climate of American neutrality and isolationism that was prevalent at the time.  in October 1937 and the arsenal of democracy The Great Arsenal of Democracy is one of the most famous of 30 fireside chats broadcast on the radio by United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was read on December 29, 1940, at a time when Nazi Germany had conquered much of Europe and threatened Britain.  fireside chats The fireside chats were a series of thirty evening radio talks given by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944. Origin of radio address  at the end of December 1940.

The subsequent four chief executives--Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John E Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson--closely followed Roosevelt's collaborative method of choosing wordsmiths, but the procedure broke down in the Richard Nixon administration. What Nixon did was to expand the government public relations public relations, activities and policies used to create public interest in a person, idea, product, institution, or business establishment. By its nature, public relations is devoted to serving particular interests by presenting them to the public in the most  network by establishing the offices of communication, public liaison, and public affairs as well as by centralizing control over the information apparatus. This dual change meant that speechwriters no longer were at the forefront of the speech composition process.

Whereas Ronald Reagan and Clinton used the communications structure effectively in speechwriting tasks, other chief executives such as Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush did not, according to Gelderman. The author credits Reagan's vision for America and the astuteness of his top assistants as the reason for speechwriting success, whereas Clinton's performance in the latter area is attributed to national tragedies and to his comebacks from political defeat and personal scandal.

On the other hand, Ford, Carter, and Bush "kept their writers at a distance and allowed them little involvement in policy" (p. 116). This chasm turned a potential resource into a liability. Employing selected speeches, Gelderman identifies several flaws in the speechwriting process of the aforementioned troika of chief executives--lack of clarity and simplicity in messages, problems emanating from rivalries among personnel responsible for speech construction, and rhetorical shortcomings A shortcoming is a character flaw.

Shortcomings may also be:
  • Shortcomings (SATC episode), an episode of the television series Sex and the City
 of the latter presidents themselves.

In the book's epilogue, Gelderman decries the current trend in presidential speechwriting that overemphasizes the use of images, calling instead for a return to a language of ideas and the teaching function of the presidency.

All the Presidents' Words may be compared with another recent book on presidential speeches, Wayne O. Fields' Union of Words.(1) Fields, like Gelderman an English professor, also is concerned with the rhetorical style of messages, although the differences in the two texts outnumber the similarities. For example, whereas Gelderman limits her focus to the twentieth century, Fields examines the topic of presidential speechwriting over the entire span of American constitutional development. Furthermore, whereas Gelderman discounts the literary content of messages, Fields categorizes messages into several types and analyzes their literary content throughout. Finally, Fields' research is mostly concerned with presidents' individual contributions to speeches, whereas Gelderman covers a greater number of persons responsible for disseminating messages.

Gelderman's book does exhibit some weaknesses. First, the inference that a president's overall success may be discerned through scrutinizing a brief sample of speeches is unfair to both scholars and the nation's chief executives, primarily because it overrates the ills of the former while underestimating the ability of the latter. Second, by reserving full chapters for the speechwriting style of one or a few presidents while integrating discussion of several presidents into other chapters, the author presents inconsistent portrayals of the personnel and circumstances surrounding the presidents' speechwriting operations. Third, the epilogue is vastly incomplete in its proposals to eliminate "modern image-driven presidential speechifying speech·i·fy  
intr.v. speech·i·fied, speech·i·fy·ing, speech·i·fies
To give a speech: "In Washington, cabinet secretaries pose and speechify" Jonathan Alter.
" (p. 178). Whatever the strategy, bringing back Roosevelt is not an option.

The strength of Gelderman's study is its reminder that analyzing the process by which presidential speeches are constructed is as critical as evaluating the final product. But it likewise highlights the obligation of present research to accomplish both of those objectives.


(1.) Wayne O. Fields, Union of Words: A History of Presidential Eloquence (New York: Free Press, 1996).

SAMUEL B. HOFF HOFF Hybrid Orbital Force Field  

Delaware State University Delaware State University (DSU), the second-largest university in the state of Delaware, is a historically black university. Over the last 116 years, it has evolved into a fully accredited, comprehensive university with a main campus located in Dover, Delaware and two satellite  
COPYRIGHT 1999 Center for the Study of the Presidency
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Review
Author:Hoff, Samuel B.
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Previous Article:Locked in the Cabinet.
Next Article:Star-Spangled Men: America's Ten Worst Presidents.

Related Articles
The Hudnut Years in Indianapolis: 1976-1991.
The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other. (nonfiction reviews).
Calif. instructor draws fire for 'kill the president' assignment.
On Deaf Ears: the Limits of the Bully Pulpit.
Addressing the State of the Union: The Evolution and Impact of the President's Big Speech.
The President's Speeches: Beyond Going Public.
The Politics of Economic Leadership: The Causes and Consequences of Presidential Rhetoric.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters