The use of myth in modern presidential rhetoric

Date

1988

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Abstract

This study analyzes the use of myth in the nomination acceptance, inaugural, and state of the union addresses delivered by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan. The speeches were content analyzed to determine whether the myths were used by the speakers to order perceptions of reality, provide psychological catharsis, or preserve ritual. The speeches were also analyzed to discover what proportion each of the seven myths constitutes of the total use of myth and the effects of war and economic downturns on the proportions of the use of the threat, America, hero, quest, savior, frontier, and chosen people myths. The results show myths function primarily to order perceptions of reality. The proportions of myths used from 1948 to 1984 were found to be significantly different. The proportional use of the threat myth was larger during war but smaller during periods of economic decline. The proportional use of the America myth was greater during peace time and larger during periods of economic adversity. The uses of the hero, quest, savior, frontier, and chosen people myths revealed little or no change in relation to war or economic adversity.

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Keywords

Rhetoric, Political aspects, Political oratory, Presidents, Language

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