The Oratory of Ronald Reagan

Matthew W. Klingbeil, John Clyde Russell, Mary E. Stuckey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the aftermath of Watergate and the ‘malaise’ that characterised the Carter administration, Ronald Reagan defined the 1980s and the larger conservative movement by crafting a narrative that called for what he delineated as the rediscovery of American greatness. This narrative astutely combined the traditional conservative theme of preservation of the past with an optimistic view of the future more commonly associated with liberalism. In order to understand the power of Reagan’s narrative, this chapter examines key moments in his presidency that exemplify three themes: morality, strength, and patriotism. He communicated those themes, we argue, through deft use of narrative and metaphor. Starting with his acceptance speech in 1980, we look to his State of the Union speeches, the Challenger address, his speech at Brandenburg Gate, and his farewell address in 1989. These speeches cover the scope of Reagan’s presidency and encapsulate the main components of his vision for American national identity. This chapter proceeds in four parts. First, we examine the historical context of the election and presidency of Ronald Reagan. Second, we detail Reagan’s domestic agenda, which focused on rediscovering American values at home. Next, we turn to Reagan’s rhetoric as it centred on reasserting American values and spreading American democracy. We conclude with a discussion of the ways in which Reagan’s rhetoric crafted contemporary conservative political discourse and culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRhetoric, Politics and Society
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2018

Publication series

NameRhetoric, Politics and Society
VolumePart F759
ISSN (Print)2947-5147
ISSN (Electronic)2947-5155

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Communication
  • Cultural Studies
  • Political Science and International Relations

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