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The rhetoric of ideological consensus in the United States: American principles and American pose in presidential inaugurals

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For over two hundred years, many influential observers have argued that the people of the United States are uniquely united by certain constitutive ideals. But what, exactly, are these ideals? In this essay I review and critique traditional accounts of the United States' alleged ideological consensus in order to show how rhetorical scholars might redirect this discussion towards a more epistemological and pragmatic focus on how these ideals have been invoked within public discourse. This essay uses presidential inaugurals as a case study to illustrate this approach. My reading of these speeches suggests that presidents have not only urged the American people to think of themselves as sharing certain ideals, but also as sharing a particular attitudinal disposition, thus defining American character in terms of both principles and pose. This combination, I argue, has enabled presidents to translate mythic ideals into a less philosophical and decidedly conservative idiom for American national identity.
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Keywords: American Prose; Consensus; Presidential Inaugurals

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Speech Communication, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4234

Publication date: 2001-06-01

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