The Speech: Have inaugural addresses been getting worse?


In a New Yorker essay about presidential rhetoric, Jill Lepore highlighted the book Rhetorical Presidency by Jeff Tulis ’72, who suggests that the founding fathers didn’t expect or even want the president to communicate directly with the masses. Wrote Lepore, “Tulis and other scholars who wrote on this subject during the Reagan years generally found the rise of the rhetorical presidency alarming. By appealing to the people, charismatic chief executives were bypassing Congress and ignoring…the founding fathers, who considered popular leaders to be demagogues.” According to Tulis, engaging the public directly leads to “a greater mutability of policy, an erosion of the processes of deliberation, and a decay of political discourse.” Tulis, associate professor of government at UTexas–Austin, is a Laurence Rockefeller Visiting Fellow at Princeton this year. [Original story]

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