"A Discovered Dissembler Can Achieve Nothing Great"; Or, Four Theses on the Death of Presidential Rhetoric in an Age of Empire Academic Article uri icon


  • Because of the explosion of mass media, we have entered a new age of white noise; because of the disastrous extension of U.S. imperial ambitions, we have entered a new age of political deception; when these two historical factors are combined with the peculiar communicative habits of President George W. Bush, Americans are left with what we call a postrhetorical presidency. This is an antidemocratic condition wherein presidential discourse is not meant to mobilize, educate, and uplift the masses; rather, by marshaling ubiquitous public chatter, waves of disinformation, and cascades of confusioncausing misdirection, postrhetorical presidential discourse attempts to confuse public opinion, prevent citizen action, and frustrate citizen deliberation. Under these new conditions, the president defines fantasy, not reality; he numbs citizens rather than energizing them; instead of informing and teaching, he chooses to dumb down and stupefy. We pursue this thesis by offering four philosophical theses and three rhetorical case studies of the president's public speaking, thus combining critical theory and rhetorical criticism to help map what may represent the death of democracy.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 28.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Hartnett, S., & Mercieca, J.

citation count

  • 15

complete list of authors

  • Hartnett, Stephen||Mercieca, Jennifer

publication date

  • December 2007