Reading disability in the law and in Presidential rhetoric : the cases of Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush.


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Using the close-text methods of rhetorical criticism, this study examines the history of discursive exclusion of people with disabilities from the polity, as evinced in presidential oratory. Specifically, this project focuses on the rhetorical construction of disability in three historical moments: the Gilded Age, leading to the Progressive Era; the Reform Era of the 1950s through the 1970s; and the Bush Era of the late 1980s to the 1990s. First, the legal status of people with disabilities in each era is explored by discussing the relevant history, case law, and interpretations used in each period. Next, the rhetorical maneuvers employed by presidents of each era are analyzed. In particular, the words of Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush are examined to explain how disability and citizenship are positioned discursively as antithetical concepts.



Disability. Presidents. Rhetoric. Oratory.