Evolution of the modern rhetorical presidency reconsidered: presidential presentation and development of the State of the Union Address
Teten, Ryan Lee
This study examines the “traditional/modern” paradigm advocated by scholars in the study of the Presidency in American Politics. This distinction advises a separation of presidential history into two categories on the basis of policy proposal and rhetorical proclivity: namely the “traditional” period (from the founding to the early 20th century) and the “modern” period (from the early 20th century presidency to the present). In this dissertation, I take issue with whether or not such a categorization can properly be made given the changing contexts, powers, and personalities of the presidency. I examine the State of the Union Addresses from George Washington to George W. Bush in order to analyze a consistently utilized form of presidential address and to determine changes in policy activism, the use of popular address rhetoric, and the evolution of the modern rhetorical presidency. I find that presidents from the founding have both proposed policy and used popular address rhetoric within in their State of the Union Addresses. I also learned that presidents of the late 20th century have increased the average number of policies that they propose in the State of the Union Address as well as used increasing levels of popular address rhetoric. The trends revealed in these findings suggest that the powers and activity of the presidency may have evolved slowly from the founding to the present as opposed to undergoing a significant transformation as the result of the innovations of a single president or administration.