Rhetorical Criticism of a Major Speech: George W. Bush Bullhorn address
There were numerous major speeches I could have chosen to give a through and detailed analysis on. However, one speech that caught my interest above all else was the “Bullhorn Address”. The Bullhorn Address was given by President George W. Bush on September, 14, 2001 on the rubble of the destroyed twin towers. I found this speech to be worthy because I this speech was arguably the best one George W. Bush gave in his entirely presidency. He spoke with such passion and conviction that even his opponents were impressed. The fact that the speech was given right at the center of the attacks rather than behind a podium made the speech even more powerful. Also, this speech forever defined George W. Bush legacy as a President who would fight to preserve freedom at home and abroad against Al Queada, the Islamic terrorist organization responsible for the attacks. Seeing that this address was relatively short and straight to the point, I’ll be covering some of the following terminology. Agenda-setting, arrangement, ideographs, delivery, constructive rhetoric, framing, and media treatment. Certain terms are going to be discussed more than others. In addition, there’s some language terms such as alliteration and metaphor that I’ll identify and give a few examples. My goal on this speech is to understand why this address was so instrumental in defining George W. Bush’s presidency and what made it so unique as opposed to other address such as his 2004 GOP acceptance speech which while mainly focused on terrorism isn’t as memorable as the bullhorn address.
The speech was given by President George W. Bush. George W. Bush is the eldest son of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States. Prior to becoming President, George W. Bush served as Governor of Texas from 1995-2001 which in he known to promote conservative values such as tax cuts, gun rights and strong Christian values. He ran for President in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative” which is a term coined by former Bush 41 adviser Doug Wead. This term encouraged Republicans to emphasize conservative values while improving the welfare state. i After a strong challenge from Arizona Senator John McCain, Bush won the GOP nomination and faced Vice President Al Gore in the general election. George W. Bush won the election due to a very narrow Electoral College win. The state that ultimately put over the top was Florida, which he won by 537 votes. Because he didn’t win the national popular vote he said in his initial victory, President Bush had to ensure the American people that he President for all Americans not just his base of supporters.
Prior to the events of September 11, 2001, George W. Bush’s presidency was set upon improving the welfare state as well as providing tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans. One such example of this was the No Child Left Behind Act which is an extension of the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 that provided federal funding for education reform nationwide. ii Legislation such as the NCLB that I mentioned had bi-partisan support and seen to build on the promise that George W. Bush was a “uniter not a divider.” iii The events of 9/11 shocked America completely. 19 men hijacked four airplanes and attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The organization responsible for this attack was Al-Qaeda, a global Islamic terrorist group led by Osama Bin Laden, who masterminded the attack. Interestingly, Al-Qaeda was also responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya and the 2000 USS Cole bombing. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on the day including New York firefighters and police officers. When President Bush addressed the nation later that day in the Oval office, he used a quote from Psalm 23 from the Holy Bible in stated this: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me. iv
There were numerous themes covered in this speech. Some of the themes I’ve identified included American exceptionalism and freedom. President Bush gave this address at the site of the destroyed Twin Towers with a firefighters, polices and other citizens. According to Lloyd F. Blitzer he said that” rhe presence of the rhetoric discourse obviously indicates the presence of a rhetorical situation.” (2) v In this case, President was responding to the aftermath of the 9/11 attack. I believe the President felt that the best way to give his “Bullhorn” address would be at the very site where the Twin Towers were knocked down. When comparing this address to the one that President made during his in time in office, two speeches come to mind. The first one is the one he gave on 9/11 in which he address the nation about the devastating attack and the second one is his acceptance speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention held near the site of Freedom Towers in which he vowed to continue the fight against terrorism.
I didn’t believe this was speech was very organized. The reason being that this speech was largely unscripted and relatively short. However, the speech’s narrative was warning Al Qaeda and any other global terrorist organization that they would be hunted down and pay for the actions. This made the speech much more effective because it gave President Bush a grand opportunity to speak his mind without being compelled to a speech and showcase a more human side to him.
The language of this speech was simple and straight to the point. The speech was very uplifting by all accounts. President Bush needed to reassure America that he was ready to lead the global fight against terrorism and the language of the speech was on it. The two language terms I’ve identified in this speech were alliteration and ananphora. For alliteration, the people chanting U.S.A is an example. Those chants highlighted patriotism and optimism for America. For anaphora, President Bush repeatedly said “I can hear you” which meant that his message about combating terrorism was resonating with the American people. Another language term I saw in the speech was personification. In this case the example would be when President Bush said “American today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn.” viIn other words, Americas were giving their condolences to those who were murdered on 9/11.
This speech was very well delivered. Normally, Presidents speak behind a podium and have a microphone installed them when addressing the nation. However, since there was not a sound system available, President Bush used a Bullhorn to enhance his voice. Hence, that’s how his speech got the title “Bullhorn”. The atmosphere of the speech seemed fit to give for a variety of reasons. 1) Having the location of the speech near Ground Zero was a great way to highlight the very topic that the President was addressing to the nation in combating terrorism. 2) Having firefighters, police officers, emergency workers present there made it all the more appealing as well.3) Because the speech was unscripted, the speech became even more memorable with quotes such as “ I can hear you.” The setting for the speech was perfect because it was very cloudy, the scenery in which the President standing on top of the rubble made it all the more perfect. Also, the President grabbing the shoulder of now retired firefighter Bob Beckwith speaks for itself. Many members of the President’s administration were in attendance including Karl Rove, senior adviser to President Bush, Karen Hughes, Counselor to the President and John Hagin, deputy chief of staff. Then New York Governor George Pataki was there as well.
I felt that the rhetoric of the speech was absolutely appropriate. President Bush understood that America was going through difficult times and wanted the families of 9//1 victims to know that the country stood behind them. New York has home to many historical events. For instance, George Washington gave his first inaugural address in 1789. Mary E. Stuckey said “ideographs are a high order abstraction that function as attempts to unify a diverse audience around a vaguely shared set of meanings.” (648) vii What President Bush’s objective in this speech was to rally the American people to combat global terrorism. While the United States is divided politically, culturally, ethnically and so forth, one of the few issues that can unity America is a crisis. In their speech there were numerous symbols identified in the location were the speech was given. For instance, the American flag was near where President Bush spoke that represented patriotism. All the people that were in the speech represented hard working Americans who put themselves on the line every day to ensure that we have our freedom. All of this was to show that America is nation that wasn’t going to be intimidated and the citizens representing their country were proud to be a part of it.
President Bush did an excellent job of framing the speech the way he wanted. He successfully was able to gather public support to fight the war on terror. When you think about it, almost every time the United States has been attacked on its own soil, the President was successful able to rally Congress and the American public on his side for action. An example would be FDR gathering support for U.S. entry to World War after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The issues President Bush was presenting to the American people was that terrorism is real and had to face the reality that they are Muslim fanatics out to kill Americans and anyone who doesn’t agree with their philosophy. This speech was pretty non-partisan because it was targeting anyone who supported American patriotism. Also, the address wasn’t specific on what the President wanted to accomplish in dealing with Al-Qaeda. I believe the reason for this was due in large part because the speech was unscripted and President Bush wanted to rally the public in support of fighting terrorism.
Without question the “Bullhorn” speech had a strong positive effect on President Bush. The delivery of the speech made him appear decisive, determined and courageous, all decent qualities to be a leader in times of crisis. The speech itself in a way awakened the true purpose for the Presidency of George W. Bushviii. Before 9/11, President did not have a defining moment for his presidency. Since he was not the popular choice among the voters in the 2000 election, he had hoped to be a unifier by passing landmark legislation such as No Child Left Behind. Since the speech was very simple and concise, the media did use a couple of sound bites from the address. The two most memorable quotes were “I can hear you” and “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” The USA chants was also a decent sound bite as well. The moment that speech was recorded all the media outlet included cable television used those same sound bites to send a message that America was strong and Al-Qaeda would meet it match. Ironically, President Bush was not viewed to be a decent orator since he constantly makes verbal miscues and has a history utilizing poor choice of words. However, President Bush proved most of his critics wrong by giving arguably the best speech of his career.
Overall, the “Bullhorn” speech by President Bush was an enormous success. It help defined the Presidency of George W. Bush by making terrorism the key issue. Also, the speech won praise not only from his fellow supporters but also his critics. In addition, the delivery and tone of the address proved that George W. Bush can be an inspirational speaker if he puts his mind to it. David Hoffman, an adjunct professor from Baruch College said “the goal of rhetoric is to change how people see the world.” ixPresident Bush understood that in order to achieve support for combating terrorism, he needed to be uplifting and persuasive and he did just that. Prior to the September 11, 2001, President Bush approval ratings hovered at around 50%. After the “bullhorn” speech it rose to 90%. x The subsequent events that took place after the speech would be the Homeland Security Act of 2002 xiwhich created the Department of Homeland Security and the USA Patriot Act which allowed the government to gather information on Americans through wiretaps and other surveillance devices.xii More importantly, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, Osama Bin Laden eventually met his fate by hands of the U.S. Navy Seals on May, 1, 2011 which was ordered by his successor President Barrack Obama. Although President didn’t personally give the order of the assassination of Bin Laden himself, his policies for dealing with terrorism would be judged for better for worse. Although President Bush left office with dismal approval rating due to his mishandling on the War on Iraq and the economy, the bullhorn speech was perhaps the one of the moments in which America under his presidency had a decent impression of him.
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