Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies



Committee Chair

Wendy Atkins-Sayre

Committee Chair Department

Communication Studies

Committee Member 2

Keith Erickson

Committee Member 2 Department

Communication Studies

Committee Member 3

John C. Meyer

Committee Member 3 Department

Communication Studies

Committee Member 4

Lawrence Hosman

Committee Member 4 Department

Communication Studies

Committee Member 5

Steven Venette

Committee Member 5 Department

Communication Studies


On October 1, 2013, the Senate buckled under the pressure of intense partisanship. Dramatically demonstrating their lack of mutual agreement, senators refrained from conducting the nation’s business for 16 days. Considerable media attention covered this shut down, especially the ensuing rhetorical activities of the Senate’s female policymakers who urged bipartisanship. The flurry of activity surrounding the legislative impasse sparked this dissertation’s conceptual orientation. Accordingly, this investigation reveals how Washington lawmakers can, in good faith, set aside partisan views in order to accommodate policy objectives.

This project reveals rhetorical strategies that, when utilized, are capable of facilitating Senate bipartisanship. Each chapter analyzes a variety of women senators’ discourse, including 98 floor speeches and 75 media texts, to critically assess how their rhetorical strategies elevated the Senate’s partisan environment. Specifically, Chapter II examines how constitutive rhetoric and the rhetoric of polarization helped these policymakers create a bipartisan reality. Chapter III discusses media framing and narrative theory to understand how journalists constructed the government shutdown narrative. Chapter IV employs Campbell’s (1989) model of feminine style to assess how female senators encourage civility. Finally, Chapter V argues that by using rhetoric that urges civility, relationship building, and rhetoric of polarization, the senators strengthened legislative deliberation

In conclusion, the dissertation contributes to the scholarly conversation about civility, incivility, and bipartisanship. The project’s findings expose rhetorically complex scenarios facing the government’s legislative bodies, the rhetorical maintenance of deliberation, and how cooperative lawmakers rhetorically construct civility. Close attention to the discourse of female senators reveals, I argue, a comprehension of how motivated policymakers can rhetorically construct a bipartisan legislative body.