Drury's Book Joins Prestigious Series

by Steve Charles

April 2, 2014

Student and faculty colleagues from across campus gathered in the Fine Arts Building Monday to congratulate Assistant Professor of Rhetoric Jeff Mehltretter Drury on the publication of his new book, Speaking with the People’s Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion.

Scholars frequently examine how public opinion influences policy makers and how presidents try to shape public opinion, but in Speaking with the People’s Voice, Drury turns the tables with a different question that adds an important new dimension to the study of public opinion: How do presidents rhetorically use public opinion in their speeches? He developed the concept of “invoked public opinion” to study the modern presidents’ use of public opinion as a rhetorical resource.

“We’re thrilled to come together and celebrate each other’s good work,” Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Department Chair Jennifer Abbott said as she welcomed guests to Littel Lobby and introduced Professor of Rhetoric Todd McDorman, who praised Drury’s work.

 “Jeff’s book is published by Texas A&M University as part of their prestigious series on presidential rhetoric, which itself speaks of the quality of the work,” McDorman said.  “Jeff has written a meticulously researched book that addresses an impressive scope of presidential discourse—he has looked at more than 200 significant televised addresses given by presidents given since the 1960s. In the book he seamlessly weaves together an array of speeches and demonstrates how presidents use public opinion as both a means of leadership of the people, and to represent leadership by the people. He does this while providing a particular focus on what he calls the “intentional resources” used by presidents in their nationally televised addresses during an era of an increasingly fragmented public sphere.

“We express our sincerest congratulations to Jeff on this most excellent accomplishment.”

Drury said the book would not have been possible without the work and support of colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he earned his PhD, Central Michigan University, where he served as an assistant professor, as well as Wabash faculty.

He dedicated the book to his mother, Barb, and to the memory of his father, Paul. He called his parents “instrumental in my completion of the project, which is a byproduct of them having raised me to think critically and supporting my delight in debate, even from a young age.

“My father passed away during the revision process,” Drury writes in the book’s acknowledgements, “but I know he would be proud of the final work.”

Drury also thanks his wife, Wabash Assistant Professor of Rhetoric, Sara Mehltretter Drury, who was “there every step of the way, offering loving inspiration. 

‘When progress stalled, she encouraged me to keep faith,” Drury writes.

Outside the classroom, Drury is faculty advisor to the College debate team, which in February took third place overall at the Indiana Forensic Association Debate Tournament at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. 


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