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Fall 2011, 41:5, pages 455 - 471

Polemical Ambiguity and the Composite Audience:  Bush’s 20 September 2001 Speech to Congress and the Epistle of 1 John

Abstract:  George W. Bush’s September 20, 2001 address to Congress and the 1st century CE early Christian text of 1 John both exhibit a form of rhetorical ambiguity, called here “polemical ambiguity," that does not fit within Eisenberg’s concept of strategic ambiguity, but rather serves as its argumentative doppelgänger. Polemical ambiguity allows a rhetor to leave real and potential allies in a composite audience in doubt as to the exact parameters of the rhetor's message, while an alienated section of the composite audience perceives a stark and wholly unambiguous message. The following analysis explores how Bush's speech and 1 John, faced with composite audiences, pursue similar goals through the use of polemical ambiguity, as well as how this particular maneuver is closely linked to religious rhetoric.

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