Trends in Presidential Heroic Rhetoric Under Economic Stress: Obama's First Year

38 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 17 Aug 2010

Date Written: 2010


In this paper I examine Obama’s use of “heroic framing” during his first year in office. I posit that the economic crisis offered an excellent opportunity for presidential heroic framing, a technique in which the speaker aligns contemporary political issues with a narrative in which a hero faces and defeats powerful antagonists to achieve a morally commendable goal. Given Obama's reputation as a speaker, it was somewhat surprising to find that Obama did not use significant heroic framing during his first year, even in connection with the economic crisis. I then sought to examine the possibility that Obama might yet increase his heroic framing of the economy by looking at whether presidential party influences the president's heroic framing of economic recession. What I discovered through my brief survey of recent recessions is that this may be the case. Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush presided over economic recessions but did not heroically frame the economy. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, used much more substantial heroic framing in his most significant address on the economy. Given Obama's strong heroic framing of the economy in his inaugural speech, even if this tendency disappeared during 2009, it is possible that Obama may yet return to a heroic framing of the recession.

Keywords: Obama, recession, hero, narrative, presidential rhetoric

Suggested Citation

Shaw, Emily, Trends in Presidential Heroic Rhetoric Under Economic Stress: Obama's First Year (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Emily Shaw (Contact Author)

Thomas College ( email )

180 W River Rd
Waterville, ME 04901
United States

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