Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Five best books on presidential rhetoric

Elvin T. Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush.

He named a five best list of books on presidential rhetoric for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman
by Robert Kraig
Texas A&M, 2004

Historians have argued that Woodrow Wilson's decision in 1913 to deliver the State of the Union address in person rather than as a written statement to Congress signaled the beginning of the end of oratory. As the century progressed, and especially after the arrival of television, what had once been a carefully considered annual presentation of legislative proposals gradually turned into a laundry list of programmatic promises and vacuous applause lines. Robert Kraig argues that President Wilson was in fact the last of a dying breed of orator-statesmen who took words seriously enough to value them for their pedagogic as well as theatrical qualities. Kraig casts new light on that famous failure of rhetorical persuasion, Wilson's western tour of the nation in 1919, in which he tried unsuccessfully to win popular backing for the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. It is a tragic story, in Kraig's telling, of an orator who would suffer a breakdown -- and, a week later, a permanently incapacitating stroke -- as a result of the strenuous 26-day speaking campaign. Wilson believed, perhaps to a fault, Kraig says, in his ability to mobilize and educate public opinion according to the "verdict of his conscience."
Read about all five titles on Lim's list.

The Page 99 Test: Elvin T. Lim's The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush.

--Marshal Zeringue