Perception and The Second Persona

Sydnie Cockerham

This work is dedicated to my 10th grade Civics and Economics teacher, Mr. Wiley. Thank you for inspiring my interest in politics, instilling the value of civic responsibility, and for encouraging me to believe in myself.

Keywords: Persona, Perception, Politics, Message, Appearance

Many people, if asked how rhetoric is interwoven throughout their day to day life, would respond saying that it simply is not. For many individuals, “rhetoric” is most often heard as it is volleyed around by cable news anchors saying there is “too much rhetoric in politics.” The use of “rhetoric” in this context, while not incorrect, may lead to people to attach a negative connotation to the word. Rhetoric in this context can appear inapplicable to one’s daily life when in fact it is present from the moment one wakes up. The decisions that an individual makes when they are getting dressed in the morning are reflections of their internal state. All people are concerned with their appearance, whether through the clothes they wear, the car they drive, or the social group to which they belong. Edwin Black takes interest in ideologies and the ways appearance may reveal them, in his theory of the Second Persona. He argues,


Discourses contain tokens of their authors. Discourses are, directly or in a transmuted form, the external signs of internal states. In short, we accept it as true that a discourse implies an author, and we mean by that more than the tautology that an act entails an agent. We mean, more specifically, that certain features of a linguistic act entail certain characteristics of the language user. (Black 110)


In short, Black posits that the words and actions of an individual act as context clues for those around them. Based on an individual’s appearance, these context clues allow an audience, through deduction, to arrive at particular conclusions about the individual. Understanding that one’s appearance informs others’ perceptions can be advantageous to individuals, such as politicians, who are seeking to convey a certain message.


Politicians are known to be image-conscious, but to what extent are they intentional in their appearance? As a Political Science major, I am interested in how politicians attempt to convey messages to the public. President George W. Bush, the U.S. President during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, threw the first pitch in the 2001 World Series in New York City (Hager and Bush 128). Only a little over a month after 9/11, the country as a whole, not to mention New York City, remained on edge. At first glance, President Bush throwing the opening pitch appears as nothing more than a ceremonial honor; However, the act possessed a deeper implied meaning. President Bush taking the field in front of thousands of people, in the wake of an infamous national security crisis, demonstrated that he was not scared and the American people should not be either (Milbank). By employing the Second Persona as a method of rhetorical analysis, it can be seen how Bush conveyed a message of fearlessness by throwing a pitch due to his location, apparel, and achieved outcome.


President Bush’s location, both in New York City and on the mound, contributed to his message’s success. The American public could interpret choosing this specific location to mean that Bush was ready to confidently face each day following 9/11. Seeing their president’s fearlessness permitted the audience to conclude that they should not be scared either. While it would have been safer for him to throw out a pitch for one of the World Series’ games in the Diamondbacks’ stadium in Arizona, President Bush knew that throwing a pitch in New York City would have a greater impact (McGuirk). President Bush’s daughter, Barbara Pierce Bush, provided insight into this moment, saying “[m]y dad wanted to throw a perfect pitch because of all that moment symbolized, and he wanted to throw it from the toughest spot on the field: the top of the mound” (Hager and Bush 130). The ceremonial first pitch of a game can always be thrown closer to the plate, but President Bush did not want to back down from the challenge. He wanted to face this challenge head on, implying that he would do the same for any other challenge faced as he led the nation after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


President Bush’s choice of apparel also portrayed an image of confidence and support. Due to the security risk of the President being on the open field in front of thousands of spectators, the Secret Service insisted that he wear a bulletproof vest. Though this was a reasonable precaution, the outward display of a bulletproof vest would have implied that there was something for the President to fear. Instead, Bush donned a New York City Fire Department quarter-zip over the bulletproof vest (McGuirk). In addition to covering the bulletproof vest, the FDNY clothing acted as a token and conveyed the President’s support of the city’s firefighters who responded first to the World Trade Center. Given that the fans present at the game were largely from the New York City area, and thus have first-hand connections to first responders, showing support for the FDNY would personally appeal to the audience. By showing his pride for the firefighters of New York City and by concealing his bulletproof vest, President Bush exuded confidence on the field and support for the men and women who answered the call on 9/11.


The outcome of President Bush’s opening pitch relied more so on luck than the location and clothing choices, but it was no less significant in conveying a message of strength. President Bush did not merely throw a baseball to a catcher. He threw a perfect pitch: “sail[ing] fast and true right across home plate and into the catcher’s mitt, a strike” (Hager and Bush 130). The pitch’s successful outcome required confidence and experience. It was the final token in President Bush’s World Series appearance that demonstrated assured confidence in the United States and the fearlessness each American should embody. The perfectly executed pitch allowed the game to start on a positive note, foreshadowing a hopeful future for America under the leadership of President Bush.


Informed by Edwin Black’s theory of the Second Persona and his concept of tokens, I have argued that small actions and details convey impactful messages to an audience. As demonstrated with President George W. Bush’s presence in the 2001 World Series, one’s appearance can have even more of an impact on an audience than a speaker’s words, rhetorically or otherwise.

Works Cited

Black, Edwin. “The Second Persona.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 56, no. 2, Apr. 1970, pp. 109–19.

Hager, Jenna Bush, and Barbara Bush. Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild an Wonderful Life. Grand Central Publishing, 2017.

McGuirk, Timothy. “Remembering President George W. Bush’s 2001 World Series Pitch | National September 11 Memorial & Museum.” 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.

Milbank, Dana. “At Yankee Stadium, President Makes a Pitch for Normalcy.” Washington Post, 31 Oct. 2001.,


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Feeling Rhetoric Copyright © 2022 by Sydnie Cockerham is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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