His words have influenced the way we see our roles as Americans and the way we see and respond to the violence that was perpetrated against us. To what extent are the President's speeches the persuasive rhetoric of a good leader, and to what extent are they distortions of reality? Political language scholar John Wesley Young describes the characteristics of totalitarian language found in the Orwellian Model of political rhetoric. Its six major components include: "intent of the rulers to control thought and behavior through language, exaltation of the state over the individual, violence and vilification, euphemism, special political terminology, and the failure of words to reflect reality" (215). Before any ruler can influence the thoughts and behavior of the masses, she or he must have their support.
According to James C. Scott in his article "Prestige as the Public Discourse of Domination," a leader's ability to call forth a sense of group unity is crucial to maintaining respect and prestige as leader. In his first speech, on September 20, the President paints images of citizens coming together and responding to our tragedy with bravery, compassion, and patriotism. He describes people singing, praying, and mourning for us around the globe, and thanks the world for its "outpouring of support."
[...] America will act deliberately and decisively, and the cause of freedom will prevail" (29 Sept. 2001, p. 2). "We did not ask for this mission, but we will fulfill it…We defend not only our precious freedoms, but also the freedom of people everywhere" (7 Oct. 2001, p. 2). "We wage a war to save civilization itself. We did not seek it, but we must fight it--and we will prevail" (8 Nov. 2001, p. 2). To end several of these speeches, the President also asks for God's blessing and wisdom, thus adding to the impression that this war is our righteous and divine mission against the force of evil. [...]
[...] This mixing of war and religion has, of course, been done for centuries. If Christianity and Islam proclaim that we should try to live in peace and harmony, then using either religion or either god to justify violence is obviously just a way to trigger the emotional support of the masses. Both sides in this conflict are guilty on this count. There are other ways President Bush attempts to trigger emotional support with statements that sound good, but are vague and do not make much sense. [...]
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