Harlot Symposium: Presidential Rhetoric

Check out Harlot’s latest call for contributions for a symposium on presidential rhetoric:

Presidents and Presidential Hopefuls of 2008/2009
Presidents and Presidential Hopefuls of 2008/2009

Throughout a heady election season, the conclusion of a divisive administration, and an inauguration that attracted a record 1.8 million people to Washington D.C., American presidents and presidential hopefuls have performed a flurry of persuasive acts, some stilted, some eloquent, some mangled, some unintentional, some iconic. What have been the most pivotal moments in American politics in the last year? What stood out, made you laugh, made you yell, made you think? What conversations should the nation — and the world — have as we move forward?

We welcome short contributions of 500-750 words or video/audio productions of 1-2 minutes (or any combination thereof) that explore an issue or phenomenon you think is stimulating, amusing, or uncomfortable — as long as it is insightful. Submissions are due by Monday, March 2, 2009.

George W. Bush’s Farewell

I can’t help but feel it’s embarrassing the U.S. media has slighted its outgoing president.

Sure, his approval ratings are quite low, and sure a pilot crash landing on the Hudson River was riveting news, but I’m still surprised the major media outlets largely cut directly to and then directly away from President Bush’s farewell speech without giving much build up or much conversation afterward.

Even this Time‘s piece from November 2008 says it’s “the nature of mainstream journalism to attempt to be kind to Presidents when they are coming and going but to be fiercely skeptical in between,” and yet this article is anything but kind and celebratory. Googling “Bush” and “farewell address” shows an odd listing: The second hit is Ariana Huffington’s piece, “Bush’s Farewell Address: Still Delusional After All These Years,” which is anything but a charming look at Bush’s legacy. Even knowing the current atmosphere is not in Bush’s favor, I’m surprised the article ranks so high.

The eyes of the country are certainly looking forward, but it’s worth taking a look at how President Bush has been packaging the remaining days of his presidency. I can’t seem to remember where I read an article about the Bush administration working hard since the election to paint a flattering picture of the president, but it seems true. Bush gave a record number of interviews, and I recall reading a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of Bush, and the picture was flattering.

But then there’s Bush’s final press conference:

(The complete 47-minute press conference is hosted on C-SPAN)

I was watching CNN when I heard one commentator call Bush’s performance “pathetic.” They are really giving him no love.

And then there’s President Bush’s farewell address:

(Click here to see Part 2 of the farewell address.)

The speech contains some of the usual (see the transcript here) — gratitude for having served, a positive look toward the past, an optimisitic look toward the future, and honor expressed over remaining an American citizen (though I am surprised how close  line echos President Clinton’s farewell speech: Bush said, “It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your President. [. . .] I have been blessed to represent this nation we love. And I will always be honored to carry a title that means more to me than any other – citizen of the United States of America,” while Clinton said, “In the years ahead, I will never hold a position higher or a covenant more sacred than that of President of the United States. But there is no title I will wear more proudly than that of citizen”). The speech also held some unusual moments, like the inclusion of American citizens and their individual stories, a touch that is reminiscent more of state of the union addresses than farewell speeches.

The line that struck me as the most poignant came after mention of the September 11th attacks:

As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did.

Sadly, what followed didn’t build up on the emotion of the statement. The job of the president can be a lonely, harrowing experience. Some more humanity and  humility in the president’s words and demeanor would probably have the media — and the public — respond more sympathetically and respectfully to a departing United States President.