President Theodore Roosevelt and “a bully pulpit”

The term “a bully pulpit” refers to the publicly visible and important post or position in office that allows someone to persuade others more effectively or make his/her views, opinions and views more known and more acceptable. The paper discusses the meaning of this phrase in terms of contemporary politics and current issues, providing at least one specific example from current issues and at least one specific example from a USA President other than President Theodore Roosevelt.

To have “a bully pulpit” is to have a power and authority that other people are willing to listen to. It is about the position power that a person has and others accept in a specific society or community. A bully pulpit is about being able to influence others well.

A wonderful example of a bully pulpit in the contemporary world dates back to the administration of George Bush Jr., and the war in the Middle East. It was during the Bush’s administration that the CIA stated (and Bush repeated) that Iraq was developing the weapons of mass destruction that could threaten the national security of the USA. If some John or Bill in a bar said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that would attack the USA hardly anyone would listen, but the head of the CIA and the President certainly had “a bully pulpit” or authority, so the whole country reacted, the US military got ready and attacked Iraq. Years later, the CIA admitted that it lied about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but since the war was already started no one really cared enough to fire or sue the head of the CIA or the US President, whose actions started the war. Another important person with a bully pulpit is the head of the Federal Reserve Bernanke or former Alan Greenspan, whose words literally could move financial markets, affect stock prices and dollar exchange rates. Again, it is possible that even smarter people, but without formal position or visible place, could say even more important things, yet no one would listen to them, because they do not have that bully pulpit. In Theodore Roosevelt’s case, the bully pulpit was his ability to influence others in the USA and abroad and serve as the 25th and 26th President. His “big stick diplomacy”, “Square deal” and other policies could be implemented only by someone who had a bully pulpit.

Finally, virtually all US presidents had a bully pulpit even though this term was not used. The famous “Read my lips, no new taxes!” (George H. W. Bush), “I am a Berliner!” (J.F. Kennedy) or “The war on terrorism!” (George Bush Jr.) are great examples of bully pulpits that affected not only the whole nation but also the world in one way or the other. The US Presidents, which represent one of the three branches of the US government have top executive position power, so the statements that US presidents make are always heard attentively. Even the current President’s statements regarding the completion of the US mission in Afghanistan, Iraq or the ideas regarding medical initiatives are being heard attentively by the military, pharmaceutical and other lobby and interest groups, solely because, Obama also has bully pulpit.


Brigid Callaghan Harrison,  American Democracy Now, 3rd Edition.

Benjamin Ginsberg, Theodore J. Lowi and Margaret Weir. We the People: An Introduction to American Politics.

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