As these videos may demonstrate, George Bush is an interesting case
when it comes to the rhetorical presidency. Though he could give a
pretty good speech when he had to, he did not place much stock in the
rhetorical dimensions of the office, unlike, say, Gerald Ford who was
never a highly effective speaker but who accepted the notion that the
chief executive has a rhetorical function. Though giving a farewell
address seems, perhaps, more appropriate when you've served two terms
(Reagan gave one and I suspect Bill Clinton will too), I think it
nonetheless significant that Bush declined to give one. Even Jimmy
Carter took advantage of the opportunity.
The clips begin with Bush's 1988 acceptance speech, the one in which
he made his famous "Read my lips, no new taxes" pledge. Bush needed
to give a good speech here and, with the help of speechwriter Peggy
Noonan, he did. Uncomfortable calling attention to himself, you'll
note how nonetheless he manages to identify significant aspects of
his biography without appearing to brag.
Next is a clip from one of the 1988 debates in which, you'll see,
Bush more than holds his own. Even here, however, he seems a bit
uncomfortable with the zinger, finding it necessary to underscore
that it was a one liner he had brought with him.
Next is the Noonan authored inaugural address. (That does look like
the Beaver in the background, doesn't it?) Following that is a clip
from the televised address in defense of Saudi Arabia.
The next clip is the famous "wrist watch gazing" episode in the 1992
debates. You'll note how disinterested in the affair Bush appears to
be, especially in contrast to Clinton. Rightly or wrongly, this
little nonverbal gesture spoke volumes to voters. (Sorry for tiny
video glitch in this portion.)
Finally there is an excerpt from Bush's 1992 address to the Economic
Club of Detroit, a thoughtful speech which allowed voters to get a
glimpse of Bush's "vision." His supporters wish he had given more
speeches like this and that they had received more attention.