Without Mincing Words: Presidential Rhetoric in the Late Cold War Era, 1977-1992

Open Access
Clater, Mary Elizabeth
Graduate Program:
American Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
April 30, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Charles David Kupfer, Dissertation Advisor
  • John Rogers Haddad, Committee Member
  • Anne Ayer Verplanck, Committee Member
  • David Scott Witwer, Committee Member
  • Harold Bundick Shill Iii, Committee Member
  • Carter
  • Reagan
  • Bush
  • Cold War
  • Berlin Wall
  • Communism
  • Inaugural
  • presidential speeches
  • rhetoric
This dissertation examines presidential rhetoric during the last Cold War era (1977-1992) through an interdisciplinary lens. By highlighting one piece of rhetoric from each of Carter’s, Reagan’s, and Bush’s administration on three related topics and/or themes, this work reveals the necessity of political and rhetorical pragmatism in preparing and delivering public rhetoric. All three Presidents possessed a unique persona, ideology, and speaking style. However, world events necessitated that such characteristics be subservient to the needs of the moment. Each section centers around a selected topic that had far-ranging implications for the era – Vision for America, Perspectives of Communism, and Views of the Berlin Wall. Each section is then divided into three chapters, one for each President’s speech on that topic, and provides an integrated comparative analysis of how the speech’s related to each other. Each chapter focuses upon the political, historical, and rhetorical debates surrounding the speech’s development, provides a culturally-based rhetorical analysis of the speech as it was delivered, and analyzes the media’s and public’s immediate response to the speech. Utilizing this approach enables this dissertation to examine presidential rhetoric from a new perspective while revealing important primary source information from Carter’s, Reagan’s, and Bush’s presidential libraries.