The President's War Agenda: A Rhetorical View


Justin Rex is a doctoral student at Wayne State University and the coauthor of several articles published in Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques, American Review of Canadian Studies, ACSUS Occasional Papers on Public Policy Series, and the Loyola Consumer Law Review.


Missing from recent presidential agenda-setting scholarship is an examination of the president's impact on the agenda for war. To fill this gap, I conduct case studies of William McKinley's and George W. Bush's rhetoric before the Spanish-American and Iraq wars, respectively. Specifically, these presidents' agendas are examined through the lens of Jeffrey Tulis's rhetorical presidency model. While McKinley struggled against limitations on presidential rhetoric to avert war with Spain, Bush succeeded largely because he was free from such limitations. This study suggests the utility of Tulis's model, particularly his classification system for uses of the bully pulpit and its affect on deliberation, as well as his attention to whether the president should be a central and powerful actor in public deliberation and our constitutional system. The present study yields important conclusions about the strong—and potentially harmful—influence that modern presidents have in setting the agenda for war.