George Walker Bush

The present paper deals with metaphors in political speeches. As public speakers should be men of character and know their subject, the focus of the work is on the analysis of metaphors used in speeches of the present American President George Walker Bush.

Throughout history the art of public speaking has been a vital means of communication. Leader Pericles said nearly 2500 years ago: “One who forms a judgement on any point but cannot explain” it clearly “might as well never have thought at all on the subject.” The forenamed leader does not only know how to explain his point of view clearly but also form the public opinion and influence the minds and stereotypes of common people so that they start considering them their own.

The aim of this paper is to analyze how Bush’s speeches have further shaped the general public’s view and its life-style concepts and how metaphors make political speeches appealing, interesting, and memorable; how metaphors used political speeches direct our vision, thinking, and action. While they give new insight into an understanding of some things, they can blind people to other aspects of the situation. The whole paper is supposed to introduce a thorough picture of political metaphors, taking into consideration speakers’ background, his nationality and the history of the country. It consists of three chapters, the first two of which present the theoretical part and the last one is entirely practical and here the analysis of George W. Bush’s speeches is made.

Chapter I. The Rhetorical Tradition in the USA.

Speaking is for listening. Speeches become effective only as they are perceived by the listeners and have some influence on them. Throughout the history of the United States the art of public speaking was in the focus of people’s attention. There even have been people who earned a living by working the lecture circuit- traveling from city to city, town to town, delivering speeches as a form of entertainment or information to paying audiences. Of course, it was a sort of an amateurish business and the real history of American rhetoric started with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which was delivered in 1863. “With 272 words, Lincoln changed the effective meaning of the Constitution, introduced a new style of public rhetoric. Seldom have so few words excited such scholarship, penetrating analysis, and brilliant explication.” (Governor Mario Cuomo // Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg. The Words That Remade America).

The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration that in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead, he gave the whole nation a “new birth of freedom” in the space of a mere 272 words. His entire life and previous training and his deep political experience went into this, his revolutionary masterpiece.

The Address is made compact and compelling by its ability to draw on so many sources of verbal energy- on a classical rhetoric befitting the democratic burial of soldiers, on a romantic nature- imagery of birth and rebirth expected at the dedication of rural cemeteries, on biblical vocabulary for a chosen nation’s consecration and suffering. In the crucible of the occasion, Lincoln distilled the meaning of the war, of the nation’s purpose, of the remaining task in a statement that is straightforward yet magical.

The “new birth of freedom” in the last sentence of the Address takes the listeners back to the miraculous birth of the opening sentence, and behind this image there is the biblical concept of people “born again”(John 3.3-7) Thus we see that ever since originate the contemporary images from the Bible so typical for American rhetoric. At the same time it’s obvious that the Declaration of Independence is very significant for the Americans and it has almost replaced the Gospel as an instrument of spiritual rebirth. The spirit, not the blood, is the idea of the Revolution, not its mere temporal battles and chronological outcome.

Despite the suggestive images of birth, testing, and rebirth, the speech is surprisingly bare of ornament. The language is rather simple and the rhetorical and stylistic devices are almost invisible.

Lincoln made words a weapon, though he meant them to be weapons of peace in the midst of war. His speech was the perfect medium to change the way of thinking of the Americans about the essence of their founding acts. With his speech Lincoln makes the history and his address gave birth to the notions that nowadays are symbolical to every American: freedom, nation, and equality. In his brief time before the crowd at Gettysburg he called up a new nation out of blood and a trauma.

The usage of imagery in political speeches reached its fullest flower in the 20th century. To many thoughtful observers the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates foreshadowed a new trend toward image- building rather than issue-resolving in American public life. Samuel Lubell, experienced public opinion analyst, wrote in 1962:”Right now the leaders in both parties seem to believe that personality and image-making are the most powerful forces in swaying the electorate.” (Lubell, Samuel, “Personalities vs. Issues”// The Great Debates: Background- Perspective- Effects. Indiana University Press, 1962, pp. 152, 162) Some evidence, at least at the national political level, indicates that in the personalities versus issues contest, images are ahead. But at the same time these images reflected the situation in the country and vital problems it faced. J. Jeffery Auer in his book The Rhetoric of Our Times (New York, 1969) proves that strong imagery used in the agitational rhetoric of that time clearly outlined the most important issues, such as civil rights, equal educational and economic opportunity for Negroes, pacifism and the role of the United States as world policeman. So it is obvious that despite the criticism, the use of images was very important.

Chapter II. The Notion of Metaphor.

When I use a word…it means just what

I choose it to mean, neither more nor less

(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

Our language can call to mind engaging sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. With language, we can bring an idea to life and make abstractions seem concrete. Figures of speech, such as similes, personification, and metaphors, can create powerful images for the audience. Powerful images are often what makes the speeches appealing, interesting, and memorable.

Aristotle described a command of metaphors as “the greatest thing by far” (Cindy L. Griffin, Invitation to Public Speaking). The word metaphor comes from a Greek term meaning “transference”. It is a comparison between two things that describes one thing as being something else. In language, a metaphor is a rhetorical trope defined as a direct comparison between two seemingly unrelated subjects. In a metaphor, a first object is described as being a second object. Through this description it is implied that the first object has some of the qualities of the second. In this way, the first object can be economically described because implicit and explicit attributes from the second object can be used to fill in the description of the first. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

When we use metaphors, we are transferring the qualities of the thing to another, illustrating their similarities. Although many metaphors create associations that are obvious (for example, “the war on drugs”), some are more subtle, such as Guatemalan human rights advocate Rigoberta Menchu’s “we are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos”. In the”war of drugs”, the comparison is explicit- the government is responding to drug trafficking in a warlike manner. In contrast, Menchu’s comparison of the Mayan people to myths, ruins, and zoos is more subtle. In both examples, the metaphors make the comparison memorable (Rigoberta Menchu, Five Hundred Years of Sacrifice before Alien Gods).

What exactly a metaphor is, and how it works, has long been the subject of debate in philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and literary theory. Metaphor has traditionally been treated as a figure of speech or literary device reflecting imprecise thinking or added to non-metaphorical speech for decoration. Newer developments treat metaphor more as a way of seeing and/or learning, and as such, as an elemental part of language and thought, rather than as decoration which can be eliminated. From this point of view, metaphors as literary devices constitute a subset of the more general human cognitive activity.

Metaphors direct vision, thinking, and action. While they give new insight into and understanding of some things, they can blind us to other aspects of the situation. By highlighting some aspects and obscuring others, they organize perceptions of reality and suggest appropriate actions in light of those perceptions.

With the advent of Lakoff and Johnson’s work Metaphors We Live By, which is a milestone in contemporary theory of metaphor, even greater interest was stimulated as new avenues of thinking about metaphor opened, namely cognitive science studies about how metaphors shaped common-sense thinking. They suggested a new interpretation of metaphor in the context of the conceptual metaphor theory. It contains several important points:

* Metaphor is an important mechanism with the help of which we conceive abstract concepts and talk about them.

* Metaphor by its nature is a conceptual phenomenon.

* Metaphor is based on our culture and experiences.

The use of metaphors in political language has attracted particular attention in recent years. There are two different points in such discussions. The first is that political speakers can use metaphors in rhetorically effective ways to create new meanings and to challenge previously established ways of understanding. The second is that metaphors can function as routine idioms in political discourse in ways that deaden political awareness.

George Lakoff warned: “Metaphors can kill. The discourse over whether to go to war in the gulf was a panorama of metaphor. Secretary of State Baker saw Saddam Hussein as “sitting on our economic lifeline.” President Bush portrayed him as having a “stranglehold” on our economy. General Schwarzkopf characterized the occupation of Kuwait as a “rape” that was ongoing. The President said that the US was in the gulf to “protect freedom, protect our future, and protect the innocent”, and that we had to “push Saddam Hussein back.” (George Lakoff, Metaphor and War: The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf)