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A Narrative Analysis of President Bush's 2004 Speech
On November 2, 2004, President George W. Bush was nominated and elected for his second and final term of presidency. Throughout the course of his term, a vast amount of controversy revolved around the actions of President Bush. Some of the main matters that were significant during his first presidency were the issues of abortion, pro-choice versus pro-life, and AIDS, which led to a fluctuation in his popularity with the masses. However, even with these issues, the unforgettable tragedy of September 11, 2001, and the start of the Iraq War, Bush was reelected to President of the United States despite everything he had going against him.
Because of the controversial issues surrounding President G.W. Bush before and during the time of his reelection, the acceptance speech that he delivered is an important piece of literature to study. This diplomatic speech is a piece of rhetorical contribution because the motives and meanings behind any President’s speech is significant to us as citizens of the United States of America. It further warrants our attention because if the audience is able to comprehend the inner meanings and motives behind a presidential speech, then they will eventually be able to differentiate the actual stances and platforms of future presidential candidates and nominees.
Using narrative criticism, I will analyze George W. Bush’s Second Party Nomination Acceptance Speech in an attempt to determine whether the stories within the speech had narrative coherence and how rhetorical choices made by the rhetor influenced the audience. In addition, I will also determine how the stories used reveal the intentions and motives of the rhetor.
According to Sonja K. Foss, narratives help us “organize the stimuli of our experience so that we can make sense of the people, places, events and actions of our lives” (Foss 307). Foss also states that narratives enable people to come to an understanding about the world in which they live, in addition to provide an opportunity for those people to participate in the social world through the use of shared meaningful arrangements.
In order to be able to criticize using the method of narrative criticism, there are four criteria proposed by Foss that must be met. The first criteria that Foss requires is that the artifact contains at least two events. President Bush’s speech contains multiple events regarding the election process and significant events that occurred throughout his first presidency that encouraged him to want to become a two-term President. The second criteria is that the two, or more, events occur in sequence or in a way that the critic is able to interpret the chronology. In the narrative, Bush talked about several events: his goals of his term, the disaster of September 11th, the effects of the tragedy and the resulting war that followed. Foss’s third criteria requires that the sequential events have a causal relationship. In the case of Bush’s speech, the events of 9/11 and the war on terrorism caused him to run for reelection. The last criteria Foss requires is that the sequential, causal events be about a unified subject. All of the events that Bush brings up in his speech all attempt to show his appreciation for being reelected and also show his initial motives for the rhetoric.
Lastly, to be considered a narrative, the artifact must include a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning of the speech starts off with Bush establishing who he is and what he believes. In the middle of the speech, Bush explains different campaigns and issues that he is for or against. Finally, he ends with a forecast into the future. By using the before mentioned conditions and the four criteria proposed by Foss, we can see that President Bush’s nomination speech qualifies as a narrative to be rhetorically analyzed.
Method of Narrative Criticism
In order to apply method criticism, there are two important steps. The first step in narrative criticism is to identify the objective of the action in the story. During this step, the critic must make the best guess of the situation in which the narrative addresses. According to Foss, “The nature of the narrated world that is developed, including the settings, the characters, and other features, will provide you with clues as to the action the narrative is supposed to be performing” (p. 311). Through the use of these features, the critic should be able to get a good idea of what the rhetor’s objective is behind the narrative.
The second step is to identify the features of the narrative. In this step, the critic must determine what features the rhetor used and why they made certain choices to shape the story. Through the use of settings, characters, events and themes, the overall coherence of the rhetoric will be revealed.
Analysis of Events
In September of 2004, Bush’s Republican Party Nomination Acceptance Speech was delivered at the Republican National Convention in New York City. There are three major events that the rhetor, Bush, talks about throughout the course of the speech. In addition to major events, Bush also includes minor stories which, according to Foss, are known as “satellites” (p. 313). These satellites, while not essential to the rhetoric in terms of purpose and content, are important because they elaborate and complete the main event, also known as the “kernel”, of the narrative (p. 313). These are used by the rhetor, President George W. Bush, in order to form a connection with the audience.
The first of the three major event in the rhetoric is represented when President Bush establishes who he is and what he believes. By doing this, he is able to promote his credibility as a prominent political leader. The second event is when Bush goes on to explain the different campaigns and issues that he is either for or against. This shows that he is no newcomer to politics and that the audience should rely on him because of his experience and his willingness to change in order to meet the needs of the nation. The third event occurs at the end of the narrative when declares a forecast into the future of his second term. After showing how he had helped the nation and how his intentions are always in favor of the nation, Bush goes on to show how he will continue to guide the nation throughout his second term.
Three satellites are told throughout the rhetoric and help to further develop President Bush’s speech. The first story is located at the beginning of the speech when Bush mentions the events of September 11th. He briefly talks about how the tragedy came to be, who was at fault and how the American people came together to offer aid to those in need. He talks of “Americans in uniform storming mountain strongholds, and charging through sandstorms, and liberating millions, with acts of valor” (para 3). The rhetor uses this story to add validity to the claim that under his guidance, fellow Americans came together to support one another. This appeals to the audience emotionally because it was an event that is still to this day extremely significant and talked about often. We can see that the audience appreciates the brief narrative of heroism due to the applause that comes after the story concludes. While appreciated by the audience, as determined by the applause, this story does not add coherence to the speech as a whole. If anything, it merely acts as an opening that catches the attention of the audience.
The second satellite President Bush mentions also relates to the tragedy of September 11th. Bush explains his experience at the World Trade Center and tells the audience of the meetings he made with those that worked there. He explains that “A fellow grabbed [him] by the arm and he said, ‘Do not let me down.’ Since that day, [he] wake[s] up every morning thinking about how to better protect our country” (para 96). This story also proves to be ethos, or an appeal on the audience’s emotions. It gives the audience the idea that the rhetor is a caring and personal president that understands the needs his people.
The third satellite that Bush relays throughout the speech is his growing relationship with the American community. He says “In the last four years, you and I have come to know each other. Even when we don’t agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand" (para 157). Once again, this story is an appeal to the emotions of the audience. However, this one is also inclusive due to the use of “I” and “You”. A personal relationship is then formed between the rhetor and the audience. Due to the applause that occurs afterwards, it can be understood that the audience believes in the trustworthiness of President Bush.
The events told throughout the narrative are not the only important feature of the piece, the use of characters are equally important. Characters, both human and nonhuman, are significant because they provide a representation of the views being described. Although there are several characters found in the narrative, only a few contribute to the overall message of the rhetoric. It is up to the critic to determine those that are contributive and those that are not. In President Bush’s case, the characters are included to establish himself and his beliefs.
Some of the main characters include the terrorism that America experienced on September 11th, and John Kerry, his Democratic opponent. To establish himself in a good light with the audience, Bush develops himself as some sort of hero by crediting himself for what has been and what has yet to be accomplished. He ensures this by repeatedly using first person at the beginning of the speech to talk. For example, he says “I believe we have a moral responsibility to honor America’s seniors—so I brought Republicans and Democrats together to strengthen Medicare” (Bush, para 19).
Another character throughout the rhetoric is terrorism, which stands for evil. Bush makes a point to acknowledge those that have fought in the war on terrorism and their families when he states, “Because of your service and sacrifice, we are defeating the terrorists where they live and plan, and you're making America safer” (para 123). Not only does this statement show gratitude to the recipients, but it also makes the suggestion that conquering terrorists is the primary drive for the war.
Finally, John Kerry is a character to whom Bush applies almost laughable and unfortunate characteristics. Bush tells the audience how Kerry “opposed Medicare reform and health savings accounts” (para 77). The severity of those two social issues and the statement made by Bush makes it seem as if Kerry was against anything that helped the American people throughout the campaigning process. Another instance of mocking occurred when Bush quoted Kerry on his vote for the funding of American troops; he stated Senator Kerry told him, “[he] actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars [for troops] before [he] voted against it” (para 128). Through this statement, Kerry comes off as being indecisive and unable to choose the action best for the nation.
Through a narrative criticism of President George W. Bush’s 2004 Republican Party Nomination Acceptance speech, I have identified some narrative strategies that Bush used to encourage the audience to believe in him and his abilities. I determined that the stories that President Bush tells within his speech successfully reached out and connected him with the intended audience. I noticed that the characters that were presented throughout the rhetoric were successful because they helped to develop Bush’s intention of sympathizing with the audience, while at the same time making himself appear to be the better of the presidential candidates with the mediocre language used to describe Senator Kerry.
Foss, Sonja K. "Narrative Criticism." Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. 4th ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2009. 307-319. Print.
"George Bush, Nomination Acceptance Address, 2004 Republican National Convention—September 2, 2004." George Bush, Nomination Acceptance Address, 2004 Republican National Convention—September 2, 2004. 2 Sept. 2004. Web. 31 Mar. 2015. <http://www.presidentialrhetoric.com/campaign/rncspeeches/bush.html>.