Karlyn Kohrs Campbell is a leading scholar in presidential rhetoric.
U of M expert available to comment on presidential rhetoric and national tragedies
Today, President Obama will have the nation’s attention as he eulogizes the victims of the Tucson shooting tragedy. What is a national eulogy and what does the president need to accomplish with his speech? A University of Minnesota scholar of presidential rhetoric is:
Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, professor, Department of Communication Studies, College of Liberal Arts
Kohrs Campbell says a national eulogy is a speech given in response to a national tragedy. “National because we all share it and relive it via television and because, in this case, it is a direct attack on our national values, our right to gather peacefully to discuss policy, to listen to our elected representatives,” Kohrs Campbell says. “When that is attacked, we are all attacked; our political system is attacked.”
In addition, she says Obama’s speech needs to acknowledge those who have died or are gravely injured, recognizing that they represent all of us and embody our cherished beliefs. “The speech needs to memorialize them as our surrogates and assure us that our values, our political system, will live on, that we all will commit ourselves to assuring that.”
At such a moment, the president speaks in a role that is best described as our “national priest,” as Kohrs Campbell puts it, the person we have elected to speak for us all at moments of crisis. “He is the person who can express our sorrow, allay our fears, and reassure us that events such as this one will not be allowed to imperil our democracy.”
Kohrs Campbell anticipates the president’s tone to be solemn as it is a tragic occasion. She says the tone must also be personal. “These are real people who have died or are injured and who are grieved by loved ones.”
When it comes to questions of partisanship, she says the president cannot speak effectively in this role as a partisan, as someone who is self-interested. “He cannot blame opponents or particular groups or commentators; he cannot urge gun control, all of which disunify.”
Kohrs Campbell conducts research in rhetorical criticism, rhetorical theory, political communication, women's communication and social movement rhetoric. She is the co-author of the book, “Presidents Creating the Presidency: Deeds Done in Words.”
To interview Kohrs Campbell, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Tessa Eagan at (612) 625-3781 or email@example.com.
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