Presidential Rhetoric from Wilson to Obama : Constructing Crises, Fast and Slow
From the Cold War to the War on Terror, presidential rhetoric at times of crisis has reshaped U.S. foreign policy ideas and interests. In these settings, leaders like Harry Truman and George W. Bush have constructed crises that justified liberal crusades. However, such rhetoric has often led not to self-reinforcing change but rather pragmatic policy corrections. Indeed, Truman and Bush were respectively succeeded by Dwight Eisenhower and Barack Obama, who each pulled back from crusading excesses and redefined the national interest in more pragmatic terms.
Tracing U.S. shifts from crusading to pragmatic tendencies since its rise as a great power, Widmaier counters the rationalist frameworks which cast crises as mechanisms of efficient, self-reinforcing change. Instead, integrating constructivist and historical institutionalist insights, he argues that the contradictory imperatives of a rhetorical presidency compel leaders to initially advance new values and principles, but then to reconvert them into more intellectual policy frameworks. In theoretical terms, the book distinguishes tendencies to the popular construction of crises that justify liberal crusades, the institutional conversion of crusading values in pragmatic adjustments, and the ensuing tensions which spur credibility gaps and ongoing, iterative patterns of change.
This work will be of great interest to students and scholars of US Foreign Policy.