AbstractsPolitical Science

In Search of 'Providence': The Notion of American Exceptionalism in the Rhetoric of the United States Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter

by Teemu Antikainen

Institution: University of Helsinki
Year: 2016
Keywords: Poliittinen historia
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2066699
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/163771


The thesis studies the rhetoric of two United States presidents, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, through the historically developed idea of American exceptionalism which states that the United States is qualitatively different from other countries. The main objective of the thesis is to show how both presidents, Ford and Carter, used the language of American exceptionalism in their rhetoric in order to unite the American public behind the policies of the presidents after the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal that eroded the American public’s trust in the integrity of the government. As primary material, the thesis studies the public speeches of the two presidents from the day of Gerald Ford’s inauguration on August 9, 1974 to Jimmy Carter’s last day in office in January, 1981. By qualitatively analyzing the speeches and studying them within the theoretical framework of constructivism and the rhetorical “premises” between the presidents and the public, it is shown that invoking American exceptionalism rhetorically was a useful tool for both presidents when they encountered political problems with regards to economy or foreign policy crises. American exceptionalism is studied in this thesis with the help of the United States foreign policy traditions described by Walter Russell Mead (Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, Hamiltonian, Wilsonian), along with the more conventional dualistic description of realism and idealism. Analyzing the speeches and foreign policy goals of Ford and Carter, it is possible to place Ford under the group of Hamiltonian realists, whereas Carter will fall securely under the grouping of Wilsonian idealists. Both presidents used the language of American exceptionalism to attain their political goals even though they represented different political parties, and even though Carter was vehemently trying to set himself apart from the previous Nixon/Ford administrations. The results of this thesis suggest that when it comes to using the notion of American exceptionalism in rhetoric, the party affiliations of the presidents do not matter to a considerable extent. They also suggest that since the idea of American exceptionalism has its roots in the historical tradition of the formation of the United States, it is also a tempting tool for presidents to use to rally the public around the policies of the presidents.