Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association
Political Science and International Studies
Near the beginning of a congressional session, the president will present key pieces of his legislative agenda to both Congress and the American public in the State of the Union address (SUA). He will couch his requests in a way that seeks to persuade his audiences he has the legislative solution to a problem he details. Effective political communication between the president and Congress is essential since each play key roles in the legislative process. While Congress comprises the legislative branch, the moniker we attach to one of the multiple jobs with which presidents are charged is that of chief legislator. Within the legislative process, presidents may recommend legislation, but it is up to Congress to act. While the chief legislator’s role is limited, the SUA has become a potent tool that the president may utilize in his role as chief legislator. Presidents, as chief legislators, share two goals with regular legislators. They desire to secure reelection, and they want to make public policy. In addition, term limited presidents have a unique goal; they want to secure a positive legacy. In the SUA, chief legislators will claim credit for past successes, make requests for legislative actions, and use symbols all to further these mutually reinforcing goals. We examine how President George W. Bush used the rhetoric of the SUA in his role as chief legislator during his first term to aid him in the advancement of these goals. We find that Bush’s use of the policymaking rhetoric changed after 9-11 and became unusual when compared to previous presidents’ use of the SUA. He acted less as chief legislator and more as commander-in-chief and chief executive.
Hoffman, Donna R. and Howard, Alison D., "George W. Bush and the Rhetoric of Chief Legislator: The First Term" (2006). Collected Faculty and Staff Scholarship. 4.
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