The modern presidency, the media, and affirmative action
Lawrence, Windy Yvonne
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The president, more than any other political agent, holds a powerful position as a symbolic broker, whose discourse often educates, inspires, and frames public discussions about issues. Indeed, the president’s words greatly impacts our views of policy, and this is certainly true as well for controversies surrounding affirmative action. The controversies surrounding affirmative action over the last four decades have ebbed and flowed, contributing to a rhetorical trajectory which has changed paths and meanings many times. This project examines four controversial moments in history during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and William Clinton, which contributed to the way we understand and talk about civil rights and affirmative action. Looking at the ways each president utilized the rhetorical strategies of history, definition, and persona, this project examines the means by which civil rights have been constructed as a moral issue and the implications for those attempting to advance arguments in the context of current society. Second, this dissertation examines how various agents have advanced histories in order to advance various notions of American Identity. Finally, an examination of the affirmative action debate as controversy provides insight into a more useful institutional manner of reasoning that more fully recognizes the modern context in which arguments are crafted. Ultimately, this dissertation is an attempt to contribute to the understandings of social change and to more adequately consider rhetoric’s role in this process.