chapter
31 Pages

Introduction: A "Weapon in the Hands of the People": The Rhetorical Presidency in Historical and Conceptual Context

WithJeffrey Friedman

How did presidents come to be quasi-religious figures, who (if they are successful) spark the zeal of millions with their “visions for the future” and their “dreams of a better country”? How is it that these high-minded aspirations never seem to be fulfilled, that the cynicism of dashed “hope” afflicts each new generation? Why is the politics of “idealism” shadowed by the “politics of personal destruction”? The Rhetorical Presidency, by Jeffrey K. Tulis, is an essential starting point for

answering such questions. It is one of the two or three most important and perceptive works written by a political scientist during the twentieth century, and it is the one that may help the most to explain the pathological aspects of modern politics-not only in the United States, but in all social democracies. It is an honor to present this volume of reflections on a landmark work in American political development. I thank Tulis and the other symposiasts for agreeing to look back over the course of two decades to see what we have learned since his book first appeared. Each paper is self-contained and accessible to non-specialists. So rather than sum-

marizing them, I will provide a conceptual outline of the book, emphasizing the rhetorical “logic” that animates contemporary politics. I will also provide some historical context, not for the book itself, but for the two moments it contrasts against each other: the advent of the U.S. Constitution at the end of the eighteenth century; and, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the “layering” of a new constitution on top of the old one. It is inconceivable that Tulis would completely agree with my reading of his book,

which, like all readings, is shaped by my own normative, positive, and historical views. Those who are provoked by what I write should, therefore, read The Rhetorical Presidency and form their own ideas. They won’t regret it.