Four years to forever: one-term presidents and the rhetorical power of presidential libraries
Presidential libraries are sophisticated sites for public memory designed to affirm democratic values, convince audiences of each president’s accomplishments, and enshrine a leader’s legacy in a favorable light for future generations. Although these memory places are consequential for every president, they are pivotal for those only granted one term in office. This study explores the ways that the libraries of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush rhetorically elevate the respective presidents in public memory. This study blends traditional narrative criticism with calls for ‘field rhetoric’ to examine how the three respective libraries utilize space, place, and verbal discourse in order to narrate the most compelling case for why each president deserves praise and admiration in public memory. I demonstrate that each library invests in different persuasive strategies: 1.) The Ford Library presents him as a victim of circumstance by focusing on emotional appeals to pity and nostalgia, 2.) The Carter Library excuses his presidential missteps by emphasizing his post-presidential achievements, and 3.) The Bush Library lauds his place as the patriarch of a political dynasty created using the American dream myth.