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Anger, Language and Politics: John F. Kennedy and the Steel Crisis

Richard Godden and Richard Maidment
Presidential Studies Quarterly
Vol. 10, No. 3, Why Great Men are, or Are Not, Elected President (Summer, 1980), pp. 317-331
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27547588
Page Count: 15
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Anger, Language and Politics: John F. Kennedy and the Steel Crisis
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Abstract

The conflict between President John F. Kennedy and the management of the steel industry in April, 1962 has been interpreted in an unsatisfactory manner. Many of Kennedy's reactions appear to be inexplicable and do not conform with the impression of him either as an "idealist without illusions" or the calculating cynic of recent revisionist writing. This paper is an attempt to provide another understanding of Kennedy's behaviour. We argue that Kennedy was neither hero nor villain, but a practising politician aware of the obligations and function of his profession in a liberal democratic polity. We suggest that Kennedy was aware of the sensibilities of his constituency and that he possessed a finely attuned ear to the language and discourse of American politics in the early 1960s. Consequently Kennedy realised the peril, in the steel crisis, to his political standing and thus felt compelled to embark on a dramatic and potentially dangerous course of action. We attempt to sustain this argument by closely examining the political language of the participants, relying heavily for our analysis on the writings of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, the Italian semiologist, Umberto Eco and the Russian linguist V.N. Volosinov.

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