Early View, 2015
ABSTRACT: Political leaders often construct social categories via talk and text (Billig, 1996) to legitimize particular political projects (Reicher & Hopkins, 2001a). This study sought to identify the moral dimensions invoked by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to construct the political category of “terrorist.” This study consisted of a thematic content analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) of 20 speeches, 11 by Bush and 9 by Obama, using a deductive approach informed by Moral Foundations Theory (Haidt, 2012). The analysis revealed that the speeches featured thematic content reflecting each of the 6 moral dimensions specified in Moral Foundations Theory. That is, Presidents Bush and Obama constructed the terrorist as a multifaceted, morally abject category distinguished not only by the unjust nature of the violence inflicted by its members, but also because of their oppressive political objectives and desire to undermine and “infect” the societies they target. Noteworthy, also, was the fact that these themes emerged in the speeches of both presidents, albeit in varying degrees. This finding not only illustrates the moral dimensions upon which members of certain categories are distinguished from others but also how moral content is utilized to problematize categories such that particular responses (e.g., regime change, drone strikes) are framed as both necessary and legitimate. The value of qualitative approaches in future research on Moral Foundations Theory is also discussed.