Narratives and metaphors are ways by which people make sense of experience (or construct meaning), but they are also instruments by which political leaders seek to legitimize their policies and mobilize public support (or wield power). In this chapter we analyze key political speeches by Presidents Bush and Obama on particular ceremonial occasions in order to explore the connections between language, oratory and power. More specifically, we examine how both presidents deal with the issues of war and US national security and identify some of the continuities and contrasts in their uses of narrative and metaphor. As anthropologists, we are not just interested in analyzing these as texts; we also consider the wider social and cultural context in which these speeches were delivered, and the symbolism and semiotics of these ritual occasions. Taking up Bloch and ParryÊs (1975) concepts of „linguistic ritual‰ and „formalized codes,‰ we ask, „How are these presidential speeches made authoritative? How do they narrate ÂAmericaÊ? How do they explain the failures of the past and envision the future? More specifically, how do they convey their political messages about homeland security and threats to the nation? And how do they hail or interpellate their audiences in their attempts to manufacture consent?‰
We suggest that whereas President BushÊs rhetoric tended to emphasize fear and hatred, shock and awe, American military might and unilateralism, President Obama, at least initially, downplayed belligerence and the flouting of international law and emphasized the importance of teamwork and international cooperation. Bush sought to rally Americans behind their president as a commander-in-chief engaged in an all-out „war‰ on terror. Obama, by contrast, drew on a different repertoire of military values·covering each otherÊs backs, leaving no one behind and disinterested service to oneÊs country·and transposed these „Team America‰ ideals into a model of the civilian sociality needed to forge a multicultural America that is „built to last.‰ ObamaÊs change in tone differed radically from that of Bush, initially capturing the enthusiasm of the American·and global·public tired of permanent war. He was
rewarded in 2009 with the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting a „new climate‰ in international relations and „reaching out to the Muslim world.‰ Contrary to expectations, Obama has continued to use the war-on-terror apparatus that Bush created; however, by shifting the focus away from conventional „troops on the ground,‰ he and Secretary of Defense John Kerry are able to claim that this is „not war‰ because it involves „no attempt to take over the country‰ (Lakoff, 2013). Instead, he has relied on secret „kill lists,‰ unmanned drone attacks, extrajudicial killings and undercover operations all based on undisclosed or „classified‰ legal opinions (Scahill, 2013). This „limited war‰ approach recalls the sanitized „surgical strike‰ metaphors of the first Gulf War (Lakoff, 1991, 2013).