CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER

The Rhetorical Power of Always Being at War

American Presidents Both Overstate Constant Threat and Understate the Human Cost as a Way to Ensure Faith in Government

** FILE ** President Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast, in this May 1, 2003 file photo. Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday, May 1, 2007 sent Iraq legislation setting timetables for U.S. troop withdrawals to President George W. Bush and a certain veto.  On the fourth anniversary of the president's "Mission Accomplished" speech, Senate Majority Democratic Leader Harry Reid said that Bush "has put our troops in the middle of a civil war. A change of course is needed."  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

An essential goal of American presidential rhetoric is to keep the public thinking the nation is constantly under threat, and thus reliably deferential to their ostensibly protective government.

You can see that war footing—and the appeal for deference—in the open-ended “war on terror,” declared by President George W. Bush in 2001 and continued by President Barack Obama under less grandiose rhetoric. That notion that we’re a nation under siege has emboldened the president and the Congress to expand the national security state—think of the new Department of Homeland Security, the …

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