The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush Illustrated Edition, Kindle Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the hardcover edition.
"Sheds fascinating and disturbing light on the torrent of communications that are unleashed by the 'communicator in chief.'... he argues that the real problem is not the increased quantity of words coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. but the sharp decline in content--especially of logical argument."--David S. Broder, Washington Post
"Superb...it propels the debate over the public presidency in a fresh direction...This creative and eye-opening book should be read not only by those who study the rhetoric of the contemporary presidency, but by anyone who cares about the health of America's public discourse."--Political Science Quarterly
"Lim's presentation of the consequences of the manipulation of language in the political arena is clear and compelling, and will delight grammarians and political aficionados alike."--Publishers Weekly
"Recent American presidents have dumbed down democratic discourse, Elvin Lim shows in his disturbing new study of presidential leadership. The chief culprits are presidential speechwriters, who prize style over substance and subvert the reasoned articulation of policy. Timely, well written, and highly recommended."--Jeffrey K. Tulis, author of The Rhetorical Presidency
"That 'Presidents and speechwriters have killed oratory and gone anti-intellectual' will come as no surprise. But why? No scholar has thought more carefully and analyzed more rigorously this historic change in presidential communication with the public. This book will spawn important debates about the meaning and consequences of the 'dumbing down' of presidential rhetoric. It is a tour de force."--Elizabeth Sanders, Department of Government, Cornell University
"Elvin Lim documents a disturbing trend. Presidents are talking more, but their speech is getting less substantive and less informative. Simple declarations have come to substitute for reasoned arguments. Lim's findings ring true, all the more so for their careful empirical grounding and elegant presentation. I know of no book on presidential rhetoric that cuts more directly and effectively to the point."--Stephen Skowronek, Pelatiah Perit Professor of Political and Social Science, Yale University
"Elvin Lim argues convincingly that politics has been dumbed-down but that enlightened civic conversation is possible if politicians will only try. Lim also believes that the American people want to be stretched intellectually and emotionally. The dark trail he traces therefore ends in a sunburst of hope that I find heartening."--Roderick P. Hart, Dean Shivers/Cronkite Chair in Communication, College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin
--This text refers to the hardcover edition.
- Publication Date : January 1, 2012
- File Size : 2349 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 195 pages
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; Illustrated Edition (January 1, 2012)
- ASIN : B006FT835E
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Language: : English
- Page Numbers Source ISBN : 019534264X
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,441,059 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Lim offers a fascinating account of how the very people who write presidential speeches also call these speeches "rose garden garbage." I especially enjoyed the chapter on speechwriters, all of whom - Republican or Democratic - complain about the fact that, as Peggy Noonan says, America's only "unstimulated organ (is) the brain." If even speechwriters complain of dumbing down, then Houston, we got a problem.
Lim does a good job of defending his case against the accusation of elitism, reminding us that when presidents dumb down, they are the ones who are being cynical. The American people deserve, and can handle better, he argues. Lim offers a particularly poignant account of President Bush's speeches on Iraq in the early months of the war, and argues that the country would have been better served if the president had been pushed to specify and demonstrate the evidence that Saddam Hussein had indeed possessed weapons of mass destruction. Instead, we allowed the president to talk us into war with such rousing, but meaningless catch-phrases as the "axis of evil." Thinking back on those years, Lim's explanation for how we were persuaded to go to war rings more true than any account I have read.
A short book that packs a lot of punch, this is a no-holds barred book on the dangers of a White House perpetually concerned with public relations. While the statistical analysis can be dry at times, Lim's wry, engaging prose (which reminds me of Christopher Hitchen's style) more than makes up for it.
The news media, however, is but a mirror to ourselves and should not be blamed for our own preferences. It is us who have become lethargic, having neither the time nor the energy to be bothered with the facts: "I haven't got all day, you know."
How about 15 minutes, as it might take that long to appreciate what went on.
Human affairs are not simple -- notwithstanding our relentless efforts to make them so. Indeed, it is only by appreciating their complexity that we can come to understand our own selves.
If the proper study of man is man, as Alexander Pope said, then understanding the human condition should be our lifelong effort. And there are no shortcuts to this endeavor, or to the understanding of anything else, as Aristotle warned us long ago.
As you can probably tell, I have little sympathy for Lim's argument. Contrary to Lim, Presidential rhetoric has never been "intellectual", but rather practical and political. Intellectual influence in Washington resulted in disasters like Wilson's Presidency, Kennedy's involving us in Vietnam and the Cuban missile fiasco. Needless to say, Wilson is one of Lim's paragons of presidential rhetoric along with FDR, whose intellectual advisors argues Amity Shales delayed recovery from the Great Depression by years. Obviously I am not in agreement with Lim's models.
Lim's self-professed "aim" is to "provide a measure of [the] decline of [Presidential discourse] beyond the anecdotal accounts already offered by demonstrating the relentless simplification of presidential rhetoric in the last two centuries and the increasing substitution ocf arguments and applause-rendering platitudes, partisan punch lines, and emotional and human interest appeals. I characterize these rhetoricval trends as manifestations of the anti-intellectual presidency."
Central to Lim's argument is the claimed exceptionalism of intellectuals. If you don't agree with Lim's strawman, you are, de facto, anti-intellectual. In other words, if you don't intrinsically believe that an intellectual knows more about living your life than you do, you are anti-intellectual. The hollowness of the argument is both apparent and revealing: this is a book for unappreciated intellectuals written by an aspiring intellectual. (Lim is an assistant professor.)
Of course, in Lim's view, "presidential anti-intellectualism is a threat to our democracy." Again, intellectuals are smarter than you and if you don't listen to them, democracy is in danger, a hypothesis I do not agree with.
Lim dates presidential anti-intellectualism as beginning in 1969, heaping yet another burden on the much maligned Nixon.
Among the many rhetorical outrages in this book is Lim's attempt to cast an obvious jocular portion of a speech delivered by George W. Bush to a Yale graduating class as "one of the best remembered episodes of anti-intellectualism in recent history". We normal folks thought it was a good joke, but "intellectuals" were obviously offended. Or perhaps they simply have no sense of humor? In this same section, Lim makes it clear that common people with their "simple locution" just don't get it. They're anti-intellectuals too.
Presidential rhetoric was never as good as Lim pretends it was. The Presidency, like every other elective office, is above all first a battle to get elected. To get elected, it takes the votes of the common people, not the self-proclaimed intellectuals - and our democracy is better for that in many ways.
Few in politics listen seriously to the intellectuals because they really don't have much of practical value to say. This book is proof of that. That said, Lim's research and his "linguistical analysis" are interesting.