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The Anti-Intellectual PresidencyThe Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush$
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Elvin T. Lim

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195342642

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195342642.001.0001

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The Linguistic Simplification of Presidential Rhetoric

The Linguistic Simplification of Presidential Rhetoric

(p.19) 2 The Linguistic Simplification of Presidential Rhetoric
The Anti-Intellectual Presidency

Elvin T. Lim

Oxford University Press

This chapter proposes anti-intellectualism as the unifying critique of the contemporary presidency and begins a debate on how to redirect the attention toward the quality, rather than just the quantity, of presidential rhetoric. Then, it presents evidence of the transformed—syntactically truncated and semantically shortened—structure of presidential rhetoric. It specifically reports the evidence of the relentless linguistic (syntactic and semantic) simplification of presidential rhetoric that occurred between 1789 and 2006. In addition, it takes off from the less ambitious proposition that there can be no plausible case for a thoroughgoing anti-intellectualism, which is operationally defined for this chapter as the relentless semantic and syntactic simplification of presidential rhetoric, because at some point simplification becomes oversimplification, and the drastically truncated structure of such language will fail to convey the minimum amount of information required as the basis for competent civic judgments. It can be concluded that the presidential rhetorical simplification across the last two centuries is real and demonstrable, and it cannot endorse the virtue of rhetorical simplicity indefinitely, because at some point simplification becomes oversimplification.

Keywords:   presidential rhetoric, anti-intellectualism, presidency, linguistic simplification, oversimplification

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