Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-kw98b Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-28T07:41:57.296Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

3 - Narrative lost: missed and mistaken opportunities

from PART I - Crisis, authority, and rhetorical mode: the fate of narrative projects, from the battle against isolationism to the War on Terror

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2015

Ronald R. Krebs
Affiliation:
University of Minnesota
Get access

Summary

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was, by all accounts, a master orator. His Fireside Chats are cited as paradigmatic moments of presidential rhetorical leadership. Nearly half a century later, Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office, known as the “Great Communicator” for his capacity to connect with and inspire mass audiences. If any presidents should have been able to impose their will on the nation's security narratives, they should have. Yet, Roosevelt could not shunt aside the non-interventionist alternative before Pearl Harbor, and Reagan could not persuade Americans of the danger that Nicaragua's governing Sandinistas posed to US national security, nor could he silence his, and the Nicaraguan rebels', critics. Rhetorical skill is not, on its own, enough to ensure narrative dominance – as these masters of the bully pulpit would attest.

Perhaps Roosevelt and Reagan failed because “going public” is simply not effective. That inference would be warranted if presidents' interventions did not sometimes profoundly shape the contours of US political debate – but they do. One might argue that presidents fall short when they are not skilled orators, when they are not deeply committed to the cause, and when they are reluctant to expend resources and to risk political capital – but the examples of Roosevelt and Reagan suggest otherwise. The theoretical framework of the preceding chapter offers four possible explanations. First, presidents can misread the narrative situation. They may wrongly believe that they are facing an unsettled period in which public demand for storytelling is high, and so they may traffic heavily in that rhetorical mode. In short, a mistaken opportunity. Second, presidents can err in thinking the political structure highly constrained, shy away from storytelling even when it might be well received, and opt for argument to legitimate their policies. In short, a missed opportunity. Third, presidents can remain silent and fail to seize the rhetorical initiative, allowing others to fill the narrative vacuum – another missed opportunity. Both missed and mistaken opportunities permit narrative alternatives to flourish and channel opposition to leaders' programs. Fourth, presidents can be dealt a bad rhetorical hand – the absence of opportunity. When public demand for storytelling is low, whether because the narrative situation is settled or because they are operating in the wake of foreign policy triumph, presidents can do little to rewrite the nation's security narrative.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×