Cosmopolitan Discursive Formations: Presidential Rhetoric
at the United Nations
Despite longstanding attention to rhetorical form and structuring logics that give
discourse its persuasive power (metaphor, genre, narrative, definitional frames, ideology,
etc.), a related focus on situations that give rise to and are in turn constituted
by public address, and work emphasizing the institutional and social structural dynamics
within which rhetoric operates, the relative amount of publication attending to international
rhetoric remains slight. This is particularly so in studies of American presidential
rhetoric; as the composition of presidential audiences has stretched to global proportions,
scholarship has lagged given the challenges of apprehending the manifold cross-cultural
complexities of reading reactions to presidential speech. Spanning five decades and
four presidencies (Kennedy, Carter, H.W. Bush and Clinton), the dissertation work
undertaken takes presidential public address at the United Nations as its object of
study in an effort to help remedy this shortcoming, while also aiming to provide a
richer theoretical underpinning for accounts of the modern rhetorical presidency.
The analysis grapples with three particular problems: conceptualizing increasingly
pluralized audiences, the matter of ascertaining how non-American institutions (like
the United Nations) shape and are shaped by American rhetorical productions, and the
difficulties in gauging presidential rhetorical efficacy. Two main arguments are advanced.
First, the dissertation argues that presidential rhetoric at the United Nations traffics
in a particular brand of liberal cosmopolitanism, which helps American presidents
to constitute a universal audience nonetheless ideologically made in America's image.
The terrain and implications of this cosmopolitanism rhetoric are mapped and unpacked.
Second, it is argued that when crafting rhetoric for the specific audience of the
United Nations General Assembly, the President is obligated to work within the confines
of the rhetorical institution that is the United Nations. Here – taking a cue from
Campbell and Jamieson – the project seeks to understand the limits and possibilities
of presidential rhetoric based on existing international institutional constraints.
Taken together, the resulting scene of presidential cosmopolitan address, rather than
culminating in efforts primarily concentrated on persuasion, end up mainly interpellating
a global audience supportive of a liberal cosmopolitan agenda which in turn is pre-structured
to support the interests of the United States.
Georgia State University