Award Date

December 2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication Studies

First Committee Member

David Henry

Second Committee Member

Tara G. McManus

Third Committee Member

Jacob D. Thompson

Fourth Committee Member

David R. Dickens

Number of Pages

111

Abstract

Populism is one of the most ambiguous terms in rhetorical scholarship. It can be a political strategy, a genuine reflection of personality, a deep manipulation of core American values, and much more. Political pundits have used it as a descriptive term, and on occasion as an insult. Some have deemed the concept’s flexibility confusing and even counterproductive, which sparked an interest in studying what is meant when analysts and scholars address political speakers as populist. This thesis examines populism in detail, by analyzing the rhetoric of former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Two questions drove the research: (1) What do people mean when they label a politician as populist? (2) Is this an illuminating descriptor? The research found that that populism’s ambiguity contributes to its utility; however, it is also essential that critics, writers, and others who use the term do so carefully in order to clarify their intent.

Keywords

Clinton; Populism; Populist; Reagan; rhetoric; tradition

Disciplines

Rhetoric

Language

English


Included in

Rhetoric Commons

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