James Watt's Subversion of Values: An Analysis of Rhetorical Failure

Document Type




Format of Original

12 p.; 24 cm

Publication Date



Taylor & Francis

Source Publication

Southern Speech Communication Journal

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

doi: 10.1080/10417948509372638; Shelves: PN 4071 .S65 1985 v. 50, Memorial Periodicals


Examining why Secretary of the Interior James Watt was forced to resign on October 9, 1983, this essay argues that Watt's rhetorical failure occurred because he violated the sacred values and shibboleths of the American Dream. The essay: (1) establishes a theoretical rationale for the use of American values and their relation to the American Dream as an aid in interpreting Watt's rhetorical failure; (2) focuses on the Watt persona as portrayed by the press, the Administration, and Congress as the primary shapers of constraints which framed Watt's rhetorical situation; (3) submits that the values implicit in Watt's rhetorical failure were rejected through epideictic discourse; and finally, (4) argues that rhetorical failure defined as a breach of decorum and public rejection of the rhetor's values provides an explanation for the Watt affair.


Southern Speech Communication Journal, Vol. 50, No. 4 (1985): 305-326. DOI.