George W. Bush discovers rhetoric

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From the insight that Americans have an ambivalent attitude about rhetoric but demand it of the president in times of national crisis, the essay examines the response of President George W. Bush to the terrorist attacks of 2001, focusing especially on his speech to a joint session of Congress on September 20. The speech clearly reflects a definition of the situation as war, a choice Bush made immediately and instinctively. Several rhetorical moves are evident in the speech, including distinguishing the war on terrorism from other wars, marginalizing the enemy, forcing all nations to choose sides, minimizing the sacrifice required, and forecasting inevitable victory. The speech was successful in responding to the immediate situation, but it invited long-term risks, ranging from threatening civil liberties to encouraging copycat behavior by other nations and limiting the maneuvering room of the United States.


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