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God Wills it Presidents and the Political Use of Religion

Written by David O'Connell

Part of the American Presidents Series Series

God Wills it Presidents and the Political Use of Religion Synopsis

God Wills It is a comprehensive study of presidential religious rhetoric. Using careful analysis of hundreds of transcripts, David O'Connell reveals the hidden strategy behind presidential religious speech. He asks when and why religious language is used, and when it is, whether such language is influential. Case studies explore the religious arguments presidents have made to defend their decisions on issues like defence spending, environmental protection, and presidential scandals. O'Connell provides strong evidence that when religious rhetoric is used public opinion typically goes against the president, the media reacts harshly to his words, and Congress fails to do as he wants. An experimental chapter casts even further doubt on the persuasiveness of religious rhetoric. God Wills It shows that presidents do not talk this way because they want to. Presidents like Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were quite uncomfortable using faith to promote their agendas. They did so because they felt they must. God Wills It shows that even if presidents attempt to call on the deity, the more important question remains: Will God come when they do?

God Wills it Presidents and the Political Use of Religion Press Reviews

In God Wills It, O'Connell takes a refreshing look at presidential religious rhetoric, arguing that it is often more than mere decoration meant to evoke a shared cultural legacy. In short, religious rhetoric is employed to guide public opinion regarding important policy goals. The question at the heart of O'Connell's work is whether presidents have been successful in using religious rhetoric in this manner. Overall, O'Connell's surprising results challenge simplistic conventional wisdom regarding Americans' receptiveness to religious appeals from the White House. . . . Highly recommended. --P. F. Campbell, Choice In God Wills It, O'Connell takes a refreshing look at presidential religious rhetoric, arguing that it is often more than mere decoration meant to evoke a shared cultural legacy. In short, religious rhetoric is employed to guide public opinion regarding important policy goals. The question at the heart of O'Connell's work is whether presidents have been successful in using religious rhetoric in this manner. Overall, O'Connell's surprising results challenge simplistic conventional wisdom regarding Americans' receptiveness to religious appeals from the White House. . . . Highly recommended. --P. F. Campbell, Choice O'Connell's book is painstakingly and rigorously researched. The task he sets himself is to assess the reasons why successive presidents over the last half century or more have consistently reverted to what he calls religious rhetoric to try to convince an increasingly skeptical citizenry that the president's actions are sincere, as well as ethically and morally well-founded. . . . This is a thought provoking and interesting book, of particular use to students of American democracy and the role of the president in that process. --Jeffrey Haynes, Democratization American presidents have drawn on religious themes since Washington's presidency, long before Theodore Roosevelt described the president's unique perch as a bully pulpit. In God Wills It, O'Connell (Dickinson College) takes a refreshing look at presidential religious rhetoric, arguing that it is often more than mere decoration meant to evoke a shared cultural legacy. Religious rhetoric, O'Connell argues, is used by presidents trying to strategically accomplish their agendas. In short, religious rhetoric is employed to guide public opinion regarding important policy goals. The question at the heart of O'Connell's work is whether presidents have been successful in using religious rhetoric in this manner. O'Connell pursues an answer by examining the religious rhetoric of post-WW II presidents and closes his work with a fascinating experiment in the efficacy of religiously themed speech. Overall, O'Connell's surprising results challenge simplistic conventional wisdom regarding Americans' receptiveness to religious appeals from the White House. . . . Summing Up: Highly recommended. --P. F. Campbell, Choice God Wills It contains much valuable analysis of how, when, and why post-World War II presidents employed religious rhetoric to help accomplish important political objectives. --Gary Scott Smith, The University Bookman Whether closing an address with God bless America, or talking about their faith, presidents don't hesitate to inject religious language and references into their speech. In God Wills It: Presidents and the Political Use of Religion, David O'Connell examines several cases in which presidents have used religious speech. . . . O'Connell's strength in the writing of God Wills It is the contextualization of the speeches he covers. By focusing on one crisis or event, he provides a well-rounded picture of the historical setting. . . . The survey of public opinion polls and editorial responses--demonstrates a strong ability to quantify subjective data, and clearly illustrates the argument O'Connell makes. . . . [Of] interest to academics in the field of political science, church-state studies, and related field. --Paul Mastin, readdingglutton.blogspot.com This sharply original contribution, to our understanding of when, how, and to what effect presidents use language and thoughts that resonate with Biblical references and evoke key religious beliefs and values, illuminates our understanding of the rhetorical presidency. This is a riveting book full of rich case material and surprising findings, especially those that concern the scope and the limitations of such talk for mobilizing support for public policies that presidents desire. --Ira I. Katznelson, Columbia University A well written and researched study about an important topic. The results will surprise many, and should stimulate discussion and debate among political scientists, sociologists, and scholars of communications. --Clyde Wilcox, Georgetown University This book is important reading for anyone interested in how American presidents have attempted to lead public opinion and how difficult that is. The author engagingly and persuasively uses case studies and a compelling experiment to show definitively, as I see it, that religious appeals are not likely to be an effective strategy in attempting to change people's minds. Such appeals may have their place to steady or bolster the nation during crises or other anxious times, but they are not good tools for overcoming public resistance to policies that presidents wish to pursue. --Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University Religious rhetoric can bring us together (communitarian) or divide us (coalitional). On the latter David O'Connell has unearthed a paradox wrapped in a dilemma. The paradox is that presidents rarely make public appeals using overtly religious rhetoric, despite the well-known fact that the United States is the most religious among the industrialized countries. In tracking religious rhetoric from Truman through Bush-II, O'Connell find only nine distinct episodes confined to four policy domains: foreign affairs (Eisenhower and Reagan trashing those godless Communists; both Bushes rationalizing just wars), civil rights (JFK and LBJ), scandals (Ford and Clinton), and the environment (Carter). Curiously the Quaker Nixon and Bible-belt Truman never exploited religious rhetoric for strategic political purposes. The dilemma is that religious rhetoric is wholly ineffective in helping presidents achieve their goals of increased popularity, media support, and congressional success. So why bother? When do presidents use religious rhetoric and why are those sectarian appeals not effective? The bottom line is that religious rhetoric doomed each effort at presidential leadership because it was a desperate act of last resort during a 'crisis' period. O'Connell's analysis gives added weight to those scholarly doubts that presidential rhetoric has much, if any, impact on politics or policy. God Wills It is a must read for all presidential scholars, students of political communications, and religion and politics devotees. --Raymond Tatalovich, Loyola University Chicago -O'Connell's book is painstakingly and rigorously researched. The task he sets himself is to assess the reasons why successive presidents over the last half century or more have consistently reverted to what he calls -religious rhetoric- to try to convince an increasingly skeptical citizenry that the president's actions are sincere, as well as ethically and morally well-founded. . . . This is a thought provoking and interesting book, of particular use to students of American democracy and the role of the president in that process.- --Jeffrey Haynes, Democratization -American presidents have drawn on religious themes since Washington's presidency, long before Theodore Roosevelt described the president's unique perch as a -bully pulpit.- In God Wills It, O'Connell (Dickinson College) takes a refreshing look at presidential religious rhetoric, arguing that it is often more than mere decoration meant to evoke a shared cultural legacy. Religious rhetoric, O'Connell argues, is used by presidents -trying to strategically accomplish their agendas.- In short, religious rhetoric is employed to guide public opinion regarding important policy goals. The question at the heart of O'Connell's work is whether presidents have been successful in using religious rhetoric in this manner. O'Connell pursues an answer by examining the religious rhetoric of post-WW II presidents and closes his work with a fascinating experiment in the efficacy of religiously themed speech. Overall, O'Connell's surprising results challenge simplistic conventional wisdom regarding Americans' receptiveness to religious appeals from the White House. . . . Summing Up: Highly recommended.- --P. F. Campbell, Choice -God Wills It contains much valuable analysis of how, when, and why post-World War II presidents employed religious rhetoric to help accomplish important political objectives.- --Gary Scott Smith, The University Bookman -Whether closing an address with -God bless America,- or talking about their faith, presidents don't hesitate to inject religious language and references into their speech. In God Wills It: Presidents and the Political Use of Religion, David O'Connell examines several cases in which presidents have used religious speech. . . . O'Connell's strength in the writing of God Wills It is the contextualization of the speeches he covers. By focusing on one crisis or event, he provides a well-rounded picture of the historical setting. . . . The survey of public opinion polls and editorial responses--demonstrates a strong ability to quantify subjective data, and clearly illustrates the argument O'Connell makes. . . . [Of] interest to academics in the field of political science, church-state studies, and related field.- --Paul Mastin, readdingglutton.blogspot.com -This sharply original contribution, to our understanding of when, how, and to what effect presidents use language and thoughts that resonate with Biblical references and evoke key religious beliefs and values, illuminates our understanding of the rhetorical presidency. This is a riveting book full of rich case material and surprising findings, especially those that concern the scope and the limitations of such talk for mobilizing support for public policies that presidents desire.- --Ira I. Katznelson, Columbia University -A well written and researched study about an important topic. The results will surprise many, and should stimulate discussion and debate among political scientists, sociologists, and scholars of communications.- --Clyde Wilcox, Georgetown University -This book is important reading for anyone interested in how American presidents have attempted to lead public opinion and how difficult that is. The author engagingly and persuasively uses case studies and a compelling experiment to show definitively, as I see it, that religious appeals are not likely to be an effective strategy in attempting to change people's minds. Such appeals may have their place to steady or bolster the nation during crises or other anxious times, but they are not good tools for overcoming public resistance to policies that presidents wish to pursue.- --Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University -Religious rhetoric can bring us together (communitarian) or divide us (coalitional). On the latter David O'Connell has unearthed a paradox wrapped in a dilemma. The paradox is that presidents rarely make public appeals using overtly religious rhetoric, despite the well-known fact that the United States is the most religious among the industrialized countries. In tracking religious rhetoric from Truman through Bush-II, O'Connell find only nine distinct episodes confined to four policy domains: foreign affairs (Eisenhower and Reagan trashing those godless Communists; both Bushes rationalizing just wars), civil rights (JFK and LBJ), scandals (Ford and Clinton), and the environment (Carter). Curiously the Quaker Nixon and Bible-belt Truman never exploited religious rhetoric for strategic political purposes. The dilemma is that religious rhetoric is wholly ineffective in helping presidents achieve their goals of increased popularity, media support, and congressional success. So why bother? When do presidents use religious rhetoric and why are those sectarian appeals not effective? The bottom line is that religious rhetoric doomed each effort at presidential leadership because it was a desperate act of last resort during a 'crisis' period. O'Connell's analysis gives added weight to those scholarly doubts that presidential rhetoric has much, if any, impact on politics or policy. God Wills It is a must read for all presidential scholars, students of political communications, and religion and politics devotees.- --Raymond Tatalovich, Loyola University Chicago

Book Information

ISBN: 9781412864046
Publication date: 30th November 2016
Author: David O'Connell
Publisher: AldineTransaction an imprint of Taylor & Francis Inc
Format: Paperback / softback
Pagination: 352 pages

About David O'Connell

David O'Connell is an assistant professor of political science at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, USA. His work is published in Presidential Studies Quarterly. This is his first book.

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