Becoming the Federal Reserve Chairman: The Micro-Discursive Construction of Administrative Authority as a Rhetorical Appeal to Ethos
Author: Ari Klein
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2016
In this dissertation, I explore the role that discourse plays in constructing the authoritative ethos by which we recognize actors who occupy positions to make decisions for society. Perhaps this administrative authority (Walton, 1997), or institutional power, has been conceptualized as a non-artistic influence on ethos—it is used, rather than invented (Kennedy, 2007, p. 39; Gottweis, 2007, p. 246; Cochran & Malone, 2009, p. 11)—because how an actor discursively constructs it as a rhetorical appeal might not be analytically obvious. Considering, however, that artistic (i.e., discourse-based) influences on ethos might be more effective if they emerge implicitly because a speaker’s explicit self-evaluation can have an unfavorable impression on an audience (Perelman & Olbrecths Tyteca, 1969, p. 319; Amossy, 2001, p. 8; Scopelliti et al., 2015), methodologically, we need to probe the surfaces of texts in order to uncover a speaker's “hidden” rhetorical appeals to ethos. Following Cheng (2012) and Oddo (2014), I take a micro-discursive approach in order to move beyond the more obvious rhetorical features of ethos for a deeper understanding of how discourse latently carries out an ethotic function.
As a case study, I draw upon the framework of register analysis (Biber, 1988) to examine the extent to which the office of power of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve is associated with a relatively stable set of micro-linguistic features. I analyze 142 public Federal Reserve speeches: 53 by Chairman Alan Greenspan (2002-2005), 42 by Governor Ben Bernanke (2002-2005), and 47 by Chairman Ben Bernanke (2006-2007). I argue that, in becoming the Chairman, Bernanke began repeating micro-linguistic choices that were significantly different than those that he had frequently drawn upon as a Governor (while serving under Chairman Greenspan) and, moreover, that resembled those that Greenspan had frequently made as the Chairman. In short, I argue that the Chairman speaks as the Chairman. My dissertation suggests that the register variation across the Federal Reserve’s members implicitly rationalizes the Chairman-dictated, group “consensus” on policy decisions, through which the Fed inspires confidence with the public (Shapin, 1995, p. 270; Habermas, 2002, p. 96; Blinder, 2007, p. 114), by discursively co-constructing his ethos of administrative authority.