Public will responds to the material conditions of a society, but material conditions do not become the target of public commitment without the use of discourse to frame understanding and motivate response to the conditions. The material conditions may be in the economic -- poverty or exploitation of the poor by the wealthy -- social -- crime or the deterioration of family structure -- health -- pollution or AIDS -- or any other domain of life. To transform the conditions into the motivation for public action several rhetorical dimensions develop:
Naming a concern: A vocabulary that draws a frame around the conditions is necessary to awareness of them. The name also serves to invoke the value judgement. For example, once notions of corporal punishment of a child becomes "child abuse" it has moved from being a private interest in disciplining our children to being a public interest of abusing children. Once telling a crude joke to the female employee has moved from being "treating her as one of the guys" to being harrassment, it has become a public issue.
Valuing: With discourse we declare the condition to be something that deserves our attention and our energies. We condemn some aspects of it; we may praise other aspects. We connect the condition with the values and commitments of our community.
Historicizing: Once we see something as a concern -- something that deserves our attention -- we still need to see it as a community or public concern rather than a personal one. To achieve this we must fit the concern into the context of the values and commitments of our community.
Effective leaders frame the condition in the dialectic of permanence and change. Those seeking change must present the change as a continuation of something traditional, it is an extension of an old commitment. Those opposing change must offer change to meet the concern without adopting the proposed change. Thus, those seeking change must locate their change in conservative principles and those opposing change must describe the evolution in their world.
Motivating: Rhetoric also intensifies the motivation for action. Vivid images in discourse call attention to the the problem and activate concern. Deeply held values and commitments are connected with the proposed activity. The more deeply the commuinity feels its commitment, the more motivated the action.
Policiticizing: For a political leader, rhetoric offers political vehicles as a way to fulfill public commitments. The leader must frame the problem in such a way that governmental solutions seem possible. Otherwise, leaders other than governmental leaders are the appropriate leaders to follow. Political leaders build their power by claiming problems and giving faith that they can address problems.
We want to study American political leaders organizing political will and motivating public action. We want to understand how they do their work with discourse, and to see the variety of ways that they approach the problem at different times and in different places.