Shaping Economic Reality: A Critical Metaphor Analysis of President Barack Obama’s Economic Language During His First 100 Days

Posted in 2009 Journal


This paper analyzes President Barack Obama’s economic language during the first 100 days of his administration. Having assumed office during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Mr. Obama moved quickly to articulate the nature of the recession to the American people. The research illustrates how President Obama metaphorically reframes the role of government to ‘perfect’ inadequacies in the health, stability, and direction of the economy. Within Charteris-Black’s Critical Metaphor Analytic approach, eight major presidential addresses from Barack Obama’s “honeymoon period” were analyzed. This critical approach seeks to reveal covert (and unconscious) intentions through identification of metaphors, interpretation of the conceptual metaphors, and explanation of possible intentions through the interrelation of rival metaphors. Three dominant metaphoric constructions were identified in the data: embodiment/health, foundation/building, and journey/traveling metaphors. These reveal three basic conceptual metaphors Obama applies to the economy: a sick person, an unstable building, and a difficult journey. By mapping these source domains onto his linguistic target – the economy – the president characterizes the crisis, describes his policy initiatives, and details the recession’s duration.

The first 100 days of a presidential administration are the honeymoon period where an administration finds its legislative footing and begins the process of implementing a comprehensive agenda. This honeymoon is often uneventful and more a yardstick for progress measured against the prowess of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” agenda of the early 1930s. However, President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office tested the strength of Roosevelt’s legacy as his administration confronted the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Politico reported,

White House senior adviser David Axelrod calls the 100th day a “Hallmark holiday,” an essentially artificial event with no genuine significance. But he and his colleagues also know the reality: The early-verdict stories are going to be written, creating both a challenge and opportunity for the new president (Vandehei & Harris, 2009).

While the 100 day period is an artificial benchmark, it is also a significant amount of time to examine how President Obama articulated the nature of the economic crisis to the American people. Specifically, how did he take a difficult and simultaneously abstract concept like an economic recession and convey to the citizenry: a general understanding of the crisis; the policies that would confront the downturn; and the duration of the downturn and when growth would begin again?

This paper investigates these three questions by analyzing Obama’s economic language during the first 100 days of his administration. Within Jonathan Charteris-Black’s critical metaphor analytic approach, eight presidential addresses from Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office were analyzed to examine the cognitive, linguistic and pragmatic implications of the economic language. The metaphoric constructions present a framework for viewing how President Obama defined the crisis, instilled a sense of citizen ownership in recovery efforts, and reframed the role of government to confront economic imperfections.

Critical metaphor analysis focuses on a language user’s covert and unconscious intentions through identification of metaphors, interpretation of the conceptual metaphors and keys and finally, explanation of possible motives through the interrelation of rival metaphors (Charteris-Black, 2004). Metaphoric analysis reveals how a speaker can relate seemingly simple ideas (source) to a difficult or ambiguous concept (target). Paul Chilton explains, “Metaphorical mappings, which are usually unconscious, are used for reasoning, reasoning about target domains that are ill understood, vague or controversial…source domains are intuitively understood and have holistic structure, so that if one part is accepted other parts follow” (Chilton, 2004, 52).

Cognitive and Linguistic Theories of Metaphors

At its most basic, a metaphor is a comparison of two different entities. Metaphor serves a dual role as a part of human conceptualization and as a linguistic expression. Within cognitive linguistics, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson found that most of thought is metaphorical and that people think in terms of frames and metaphors. “…The human conceptual system is metaphorically structured and defined. Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely because there are metaphors in a person’s conceptual system” (1980, 6). Metaphors work by mapping a source domain, or a domain of cognitive experience, onto a new target domain (Schaffner, 2005; Chilton, 2004). This evokes a comparison and understanding of something new in terms of something old.

Lakoff and Johnson (1980) argue that metaphors help create new similarities by conceptualizing nonphysical experiences in terms of physical ones. Therefore, hardship may be characterized as a long journey or economic instability as a shaky building. Source domains are the grounding for this conceptualization. Because source domains of experience are intuitive, the entailments can be mapped onto an unfamiliar target domain to make inferences regarding vague concepts (Chilton, 2004). A politician wishing to relate the hardship of an economic recession to his or her audience can compare it to a difficult journey, which is a source of experience for each person because of personal, social or mediated means. For this reason, metaphors are vital instruments to explain the complexities of economic circumstances.

Economically, metaphors serve an important cognitive purpose. Deirdre McCloskey (1998, 41) explains, “The more obvious metaphors in economics are those used to convey novel thoughts, one sort of novelty being to compare economic with non-economic matters.” Common metaphors in economic theory include the market as an “invisible hand,” trade as “warfare,” and components and states of the economy as physics or engineering concepts (Ibid; Goodwin, 1988). A commonly understood concept such as warfare (source) is mapped onto a more obscure concept such as free trade (target) to evoke the image of trade as a battle or struggle. Economists refer to metaphors as economic “models” because they explain unclear domains in terms of past understanding.

Metaphor’s second role as a linguistic expression serves to illustrate its persuasive power when used in rhetoric. Kenneth Burke (1984, 90, 95) describes metaphor as “perspective by incongruity” and notes, “…There is really a good deal to be said for attempting to convey facts by substituting metaphors for them rather than by using the ordinary intellectual method of substituting abstractions reached by analysis.” Burke sees the persuasive appeal of metaphors in how they define and create reality. The ability to frame reality is an important tool of the rhetorical presidency. Reality is constructed by symbolic interaction and presidential rhetoric frames political reality (Ivie, 1996). Metaphors not only define reality, but create a frame of interpretation for a particular worldview. McCloskey (1998) notes, especially with economic metaphors, that they emphasize certain accounts of the source-target relationship while excluding other accounts.

The persuasive process of reification is accomplished when metaphors define and rename political reality. Reification mixes abstractions with material experience, thus allowing politicians to name and frame new events (Green, 1987). The representation and naming of events is a powerful political tool because framing meanings affects shared political consciousness. David Green explains, “Metaphor is central to the reification of political vocabulary and to political competition itself” (10). Francis Beer and Christ’l de Landtsheer (2004, 24) take this further by tying the metaphor’s power to name with its persuasive appeal. They explain:

Metaphorical naming is an example of the way that metaphors activate alternative schemata to persuade audiences. Political leaders use these and other metaphors as tools of persuasive communication, to bridge gaps and build identification between strangers; to frame issues; to create, maintain, or dissolve political coalitions; to generate votes and win elections. To be effective, the metaphors must reflect and engage the audiences to which they are directed.

The metaphor’s ability to persuade and create reality is the locus of this analysis of President Obama’s economic language. Eight major presidential addresses1 that dealt specifically with economic matters serve as the corpus for the analysis. The texts were analyzed for specific metaphor constructions and interpreted to further understand how Obama articulated and framed the economic crisis to the American public.


Three dominant metaphoric constructions were discovered in the process of analyzing Obama’s economic language: embodiment/health, foundation/building, and journey/traveling metaphors. The president created conceptual metaphors for the economy as a person, a building, and a journey. Each of these source domains provides an important reference for understanding how Obama mapped these onto his linguistic target, the economy, and in the process characterized the crisis, described his policy initiatives, and detailed the recession’s duration.

Characterizing the Crisis: THE ECONOMY IS A PERSON

In the first prime-time press conference of his presidency, Barack Obama stated in prepared remarks, “But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life” (StimPress2-9-09). [Emphasis added] Two months later during a speech on the economy at Georgetown University, Obama said, “Governments should practice the same principle as doctors: first do no harm” (GU4-14-09). A pervasive metaphor in President Obama’s economic language was to characterize the economy as sick, weakened, and hobbled by recession. While citizens can gauge the general health of the economy, Obama used embodiment and health metaphors to explain complex economic issues in the recession and describe the nature of the crisis.

Obama portrays the cause of the economic crisis as a disease that spread to the rest of the economic body. Credit became diseased, spreading to other financial institutions and “Main Street,” which created a self-perpetuating spiral. In his State of the Nation address, Obama stated “You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of the economy” (SOTN2-24-09). He portrays how the “crisis spread from Wall Street to Main Street” because “infected securities were being traded worldwide” (GU4-14-09). The Georgetown speech contains the first mention of a commonly used phrase by the news media and economists, “toxic assets.” The president says in the same section about government acting like doctors, “…Our banks aren’t the only institutions affected by these toxic assets that are clogging the financial system.” He calls this “the heart of this financial crisis” because it has stopped lending and the imagery created is suggestive of not only the crisis as a cancer, but also as a blockage that is clogging the arteries for credit flow. Obama’s allusion to this two months prior explains the effect if this problem is not confronted: “…if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins” (SOTN2-24-09).

While Obama attempts to portray the cause of the economic crisis (target) in terms of a disease (source), he is also explaining the economic concept known as “systemic risk.” Lakoff explained that Obama understands numerous interacting problems threatened the entire economic system. He stated in “The Obama Code,” “The systemic nature of ecological and economic causation and risk have resulted in the twin disasters of global warming and global economic breakdown. Both must be dealt with on a systematic, global, long-term basis” (Lakoff, 2009; Lakoff, 2009, Lecture). Obama talks of the role of government (as a doctor) to “stem the spread of foreclosures and falling home values,” to “clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system,” and to “quarantine” institutions that pose “a systemic risk that could bring down the financial system” (ARRA2-17-09; SOTN2-24-09; EconPress3-24-09). What emerges here is an image of an active government-doctor role that aggressively treats, quarantines sick financial institutions, and acts “boldly and wisely” to not only stop the spreading crisis, but to reverse its effects (SOTN2-24-09).

The president must, as the doctor-in-chief, give a prognosis and the effect that his policy treatments will have on the economic patient. “Recovery” becomes a recurring word, in his speeches and the labeling of his “stimulus” legislation, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. His stimulus is the equivalent of a shot-in-the-arm for the economy. Obama speaks of moving “this economy from recession to recovery, and ultimately to prosperity,” “long-term fiscal health,” the stimulus as “not merely a prescription for short-term spending,” and his desire to “heal our financial system” (EconPress3-24-09; SOTN2-24-09; EEP2-4-09; GU4-14-09). Under media criticism in the early days of his administration for being economically “pessimistic,” the language of recovery is positive, forward looking, and engenders public confidence in the economy and Obama’s policies.

Articulating Policy: THE ECONOMY IS A HOUSE

Franklin Roosevelt had the “New Deal” to confront the Great Depression and Lyndon Johnson articulated his “Great Society” to fight poverty and extend the social safety net. This analysis uncovered the emergence of a second dominant metaphor used by Barack Obama of building a “new foundation” to represent the economy as a house. While media commentators look to the president’s remarks at Georgetown as his first articulation of this metaphor, he actually mentioned it for the first time as president in his inaugural address. He stated, “And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth” (IA1-20-09). Obama accompanied this call for a new foundation with four specific speech acts shrouded in the foundation/building metaphor – “we will build,” “we will restore,” “we will harness,” and “we will transform.” The inclusive “we” anaphora draws audience attention while connecting a strong foundation (source) with his economic policies (target).

Prior to his Georgetown speech, President Obama made six explicit mentions in prepared remarks referring to a foundation. Obama articulates the foundation as something the economy must sit upon and therefore must be “firmer” and “stronger” than it was previously (ARRA2-17-09; EconPress3-24-09). Additionally, he rejects a laissez-faire view of the economy and calls for greater government intervention in economic policy by stating, “I reject the view…that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity, for history tells a different story” (SOTN2-24-09). The foundation metaphor is usually accompanied by complementary metaphors having to do with building and work in order to show what his policies will do for the economy. The president’s first weekly radio address mentioned his goal to “build a new electricity grid,” “rebuild and retrofit America,” “repairing and modernizing thousands of miles of America’s roadways,” and “expanding broadband access” (WA1-24-09). These metaphors of building a foundation utilize activist language, not just for the government’s role in the recovery, but to also illustrate the need for citizen activism in aiding economic recovery. Obama’s mention of his budget as “a blueprint for our future” further perpetuates the metaphoric construction of building a new foundation (SOTN2-24-09).

Obama’s metaphoric language was a preview for his “New Foundation” speech at Georgetown where he clearly articulated his agenda to halt the economic crisis and begin the recovery process. He alludes to The Bible and Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” by describing a house built on a foundation of sand versus a foundation of rock.

We cannot rebuild this economy on the pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity – a foundationthat will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad. It’s a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century (GU4-14-09).

This passage has important implications for how Obama frames his economic policies: strong v. weak, sturdy v. flimsy, long-term v. short-sighted. Structurally, he uses a foundation with five pillars to speak about the five parts of his agenda, which allows the audience to easily follow his speech and ascertain his “New Foundation” agenda. Once again, he accompanies the foundation metaphor with activist “building” metaphors to support his overarching metaphorical message. He can therefore connect his economic policies (target) with several main concepts in the source domain: rock, new foundation, and firmer/stronger house.

Managing Recovery Expectations: THE ECONOMY IS A JOURNEY

The consistent use of travel metaphors throughout Obama’s economic discourse is an attempt to manage expectations and prepare citizens for several more months of economic hardship. His traveling and journey metaphors are applied to two entities: people and the economy. The economy travels in a different way than citizens do. Economically, the market needs a “watchful eye,” for without one “the market can spin out of control” (IA1-20-09). Movement metaphors are complements to the main journey/travel metaphorical construction. In Obama’s words, the economy must be jumpstarted, accelerated, and re-started – much like a vehicle that needs to be repaired. One can see the economy not only as a traveler metaphor, but also as a vehicle. The president makes a commitment to “put the economy back on track,” “get our economy moving again,” and put in place “new commonsense rules of the road” (StimPress2-9-09; ARRA2-17-09; SOTN2-24-09). The “rules of the road” phrase appears in both the State of the Nation and his Georgetown address and is linked to Wall Street abusers, establishing agency for the crisis and implicitly signaling the creation of new regulations on financial institutions. Much like a car out of control (source), the economy (target) went out of control, got off track, and requires rules to get it moving again.

A citizen as a traveler is the dominant journeying metaphor and is used by Obama to relate to the pain of struggling citizens who may have lost jobs, retirement savings, or homes while also reiterating the values of American life. He says in his inaugural,

…In this winter of our hardship…let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey endthat we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations (IA1-20-09).

Obama continuously speaks of citizens who travel the “long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom,” carry “a huge burden as a result of this economic crisis: bearing the brunt of its effects,” and are being forced to “ride out the storm” (IA1-20-09; EEP2-4-09; GU4-14-09). What the president does by this journey metaphor is channel the historical frontier motif common in American history of settlers who traveled westward. The storm metaphor for the economy is used several times in Obama’s economic addresses and serves as background for describing what American families are confronting. His message, by connecting present and past hardship, is to explain to worried citizens that hardship has been overcome before and can be again. Obama’s metaphoric imagery for citizens traveling paths, braving currents, and storms is a powerful use of iconographic reference. These references use simplistic images of experience to establish a link between source (journey) and target (economic hardship) (Musolff, 2008).

President Obama also uses citizen travel metaphors as a way to look forward, which sends an optimistic message and instills confidence in economic markets and citizens. Upon signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Obama stated,

The road to recovery will not be straight. We will make progress and there may be some slippage along the way. It will demand courage and discipline. There will be hazards and reverses. But I have every confidence…we will leave this struggling economy behind us, and come out on the other side, more prosperous as a people (ARRA2-17-09).

Obama can reiterate communal values by talking about the journey ahead as well as provide himself the latitude of mistakes by acknowledging that “slippage” and “reverses” may occur, which is common on any journey. But by reconstituting the American people as one entity on this journey, he seeks unity. His second prime-time press conference utilized the same metaphor, except the road was to “prosperity” instead of “recovery.” “The road to that prosperity is still long, and we will hit our share of bumps and setbacks before it ends. But we must remember that we can get there if we travel that road as one nation, as one people” (EconPress3-24-09). The president’s travel metaphor thus manages expectations, remains hopeful and confident, and unifies people around an historical heritage of struggle and sacrifice.

Discussion and Implications

The metaphors President Obama uses in his economic language, while cognitively significant, serve important linguistic and pragmatic purposes as tools of persuasion. Robert Ivie explains, “The president as ‘chief inventor and broker’ of political symbols can construct definitions in a number of ways…a strategy of persuasive definition allows the president to shift attitudinal connotations from one term to another through, for instance, a metaphor” (1996, 164). Obama’s ability to define and frame the crisis through metaphor was important to gain public support for his policies, explain to the American people the nature and duration of the economic crisis, and instill ownership in the recovery. By utilizing the tools of the rhetorical presidency, i.e. the “bully pulpit,” the president shapes public consciousness with his language.

The embodiment and health metaphors ascribed to the economy serve the purpose of explaining the recession to the American people. Yet, it simultaneously makes the crisis very personal for citizens, instilling in each citizen a vested interest in economic recovery. Beer and Landtsheer (2004, 15-16) state, “…Our bodies provide a global root metaphor, a fundamental, archetypal ‘source’ schema for much of our relation to the world and an important basis for shared intersubjective meaning.” Other scholars, notably Bicchieri (1988) and Goodwin (1988), note that for centuries, economists have looked at the units of the economy, including production and distribution within an organized system, through a biological lens. Extending this line of thought to the present, Lakoff has found that the “nation as a person metaphor” constantly recurs in discourse because “just as it is in the interest of a person to be healthy and strong, so it is in the interest of a nation-person to be economically healthy and militarily strong” (Lakoff, 2004, 69). In his analysis of financial reporting in the Economist, Charteris-Black found that an overwhelming majority of economic metaphors describe the economy in human terms (Charteris-Black, 2004). Relating the economy to a common source domain, President Obama uses embodiment and health metaphors to portray the economy as a sick person or entity.

Obama’s presidential rhetoric in this regard does not break new ground. The depression language of Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt was filled with health and sickness metaphors (Houck, 2001). Houck noted, “Roosevelt made frequent reference to his own body and health. Perhaps more importantly, he also talked frequently of the nation’s enfeebled economic health and, in the process, elevated himself to the role of national healer” (147). Following a similar rhetorical tactic, Kiewe and Houck (1991) explain that President Reagan made frequent use of economic metaphors related to roads, paths, and medicine. It is easy to understand why many politicians have related the economy and the human body: the movements (rising, falling) and conditions (depression, weak, anemic, sluggish, recovery, strong) are characterized similarly and in a personal way (Lakoff, 2009, Lecture). A person’s most basic frame of reference is their body – its movements, aches, and pains. Projecting these onto the economy has a powerful cognitive and persuasive impact of explaining the current “condition” of the economy.

Economic policy as a “new foundation” or a house also strikes a personal tone because it is related to security, protection, and shelter. President Obama’s linkage of health and shelter as a reflection of the economy and his policies presents two very basic human needs. These must be realized before progression of the economy can occur. Health, security, and protection of the economy are foundational. Lakoff found, especially in his studies of metaphors used after September 11th, “A society is a building: A society can have a ‘foundation,’ which may or may not be solid, and it can ‘crumble’ and ‘fall’” (2004, 55). A building also acts as a container metaphor, signaling territoriality and ownership (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). This evokes responsibility and a vested interest in the security and stability of the economic house, necessary for citizen unification to confront the economic crisis. Similar phrases in everyday life such as “icing on the cake,” “bedrock values,” and “house of cards” underscore the significance that the foundation metaphor plays in human life.

Embedded within President Obama’s “new foundation” metaphor is a connection to President Reagan’s articulation of the “shining city on the hill.” Reagan described the shining city in his farewell address as “a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans…teeming with people of all kinds…a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity…she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm” (Kiewe & Houck, 1991, 216). Obama describes the house built on a “new foundation” in his Georgetown speech as “an America teeming with new industry and commerce; humming with new energy and discoveries that light the world once more. It is that house upon the rock. Proud, sturdy, and unwavering in the face of the greatest storm” (GU4-14-09). The intertextuality between the two passages is striking and both biblical references come from different portions of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” The president’s metaphoric construction of a “new foundation” builds support for his policies through its personal nature and connection to citizens while looking positively to the future and articulating an inclusive vision once given by a Republican president.

Chilton and Lakoff explain that cognitively, travel and journey metaphors are universal and commonplace in everyday discourse. In political discourse, Chilton (2004) has found that concepts such as leadership and action are portrayed by movement and journey metaphors. This is also linked to the movement metaphors found repeatedly in President Obama’s economic discourse. Lakoff (2009, Lecture) notes that journey and travel metaphors are related to uprightness, a concept from “moral politics” that has important implications for economic recovery. In fact, we see evidence of the morality is uprightness concept in Obama’s discourse. When speaking of the outrage over AIG bonuses in his second prime-time press conference, Obama remarks, “I’m as angry as anybody about those bonuses that went to some of the very same individuals who brought our financial system to its knees” (EconPress3-24-09). It is a powerful statement, yet reflective of the president’s worldview that getting the economy and American people off the ground is an economic, political, and moral issue. There is perceived power in height – the nearer the ground, the weaker one seems. Obama’s use of traveling metaphors not only manages expectations about the difficulty of the recession, but is also a form of shared empowerment.

When Obama focuses on the movements and traveling of the economy, he establishes agency for the crisis without explicitly laying blame. Acknowledging that market economies naturally “ebb and flow,” he links the crisis to “a perfect storm of irresponsibility and poor decision-making that stretched from Wall Street to Washington to Main Street” (GU4-14-09). He collectively places blame while still emphasizing that Wall Street financial institutions are most to blame. Obama’s call for a watchful eye and more rules for the economic road presents the dichotomous parent-child relationship, one citizens can identify. The economy has become the wayward child whose movements must be reigned in because the parents (government) do not like the path it is following. Lakoff (2009, Lecture) says that a person’s first governing experience occurs in a family. Citizens, therefore, relate family and government. What can be gleaned from the president’s overarching journey metaphor is a subsidiary metaphor of a parent-child view of government and the economy traveling together.


This research has argued that President Obama’s metaphoric constructions shaped economic reality for citizens to understand the severity of the crisis and his administration’s response to it. McCloskey, in The Rhetoric of Economics, states “…Devices of rhetoric such as metaphors can be veils over bad arguments. But they are also the form and substance of good arguments” (1998, 13). The work of McCloskey and others verifies that metaphors have a cognitive and discursive significance in the construction of arguments and persuasion of citizens. Employing the rhetorical principle of self-persuasion, metaphors allow for active participation by the audience in the construction and deconstruction of discourse (Beer &Landtsheer, 2004, 24). Cognitively, metaphors act on an unconscious level of persuasion while linguistically and rhetorically, they construct arguments and create reality through language.

President Barack Obama’s economic language during the first 100 days of his presidency describes the economic crisis to the citizenry, attempts to gain support for his policies, and manages expectations about the length of the recession and ultimate recovery. He metaphorically constructs the state of the economy as a person with embodiment/health imagery, portrays his economic policies as a house on a “new foundation,” and provides a forward looking economic journey to instill confidence, yet prepare the American people for future difficulties.

This strategic use of language reifies the economy to the American people. In doing so, Obama reveals a worldview of an imperfect economy requiring activism on the part of the federal government. Presenting this imperfection and the metaphoric methods used to make “a more perfect economy” illustrates one of the president’s intentions to prepare the public for interventionist policies after 30 years of a laissez-faire model. The construction of government as a doctor, builder, and guider of the American economy frames the new role of government. Because the scope of government intervention was unfamiliar to a large generation of American citizens, Obama had to explain the crisis in terms that would justify the means to fix it. This would then give citizens ownership in the policies that would confront the recession. While the honeymoon period is commonly measured by the legislation signed into law, it simultaneously presents the opportunity for a president to construct a governing narrative. President Obama used the time to reframe the purpose of government and shape an imperfect economic reality.





1Speeches will be noted within this paper as followed: The Inaugural Address (IA1-20-09); First Weekly Address to the Nation (WA1-24-09); Remarks on the Economy & Executive Pay (EEP2-4-09); Push for a Stimulus: Prime-Time Press Conference (StimPress2-9-09); Remarks Upon Signing the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA2-17-09); The State of the Nation: Address to a Joint Session of Congress (SOTN2-24-09); More on the Economy: The Second Prime-Time Press Conference (EconPress3-24-09); Progress of the American Economy: Speech at Georgetown University (GU4-14-09).




(IA1-20-09) Obama, B.H. (2009, January 20). Barack Obama Inaugural Address Washington, D.C. Retrieved April 11, 2009 from:

(WA1-24-09) Obama, B.H. (2009, January 24). Barack Obama First Weekly Address to the Nation Washington, D.C. Retrieved April 11, 2009 from:

(EEP2-4-09) Obama, B.H. (2009, February 4). Barack Obama Remarks on the Economy & Executive Pay Washington, D.C. Retrieved April 11, 2009 from:

(StimPress2-9-09) Obama, B.H. (2009, February 9). Barack Obama Push for a Stimulus: Prime-Time Press Conference Washington, D.C. Retrieved April 11, 2009 from:

(ARRA2-17-09) Obama, B.H. (2009, February 17). Barack Obama Remarks Upon Signing the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act Denver, Colorado. Retrieved April 11, 2009 from:

(SOTN2-24-09) Obama, B.H. (2009, February 24). Barack Obama The State of the Nation: Address to a Joint Session of Congress Washington, D.C. Retrieved April 11, 2009 from:

(EconPress3-24-09) Obama, B.H. (2009, March 24). Barack Obama More on the Economy: The Second Prime-Time Press Conference Washington, D.C Retrieved April 11, 2009 from:

(GU4-14-09) Obama, B.H. (2009, April 14). Barack Obama Progress of the American Economy: Speech at Georgetown University Washington, D.C. Retrieved April 14, 2009 from:




Beer, F.A. & Landtsheer, C. (Eds.). (2004). Metaphorical World Politics. Michigan: Michigan State University Press.

Bicchieri, C. (1988). Should a scientist abstain from metaphor? In A. Klamer, D.N. McCloskey,and R.M. Solow (Eds.), The Consequences of Economic Rhetoric (pp. 100-114). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Burke, K. (1984). Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose (3rd ed). Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Charteris-Black, J. (2004). Corpus Approaches to Critical Metaphor Analysis. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Chilton, P. A. (2004). Analysing Political Discourse: Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge.

Goodwin, C.D. (1988). The heterogeneity of the economists’ discourse: Philosopher, priest, and hired gun. In A. Klamer, D.N. McCloskey, and R.M. Solow (Eds.), The Consequences of Economic Rhetoric (pp. 207-220). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Green, D. (1987). Language and the shaping of political consciousness. In Shaping Political Consciousness: The Language of Politics in America from McKinley to Reagan (pp. 1-20). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Houck, D.W. (2001). Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

Ivie, R.L. (1996). Tragic Fear and the Rhetorical Presidency: Combating Evil in the Persian Gulf. In M.J. Medhurst (Ed.), Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency (pp. 153-178). College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

Kiewe, A. & Houck, D.W. (1991). A Shining City on a Hill: Ronald Reagan’s Economic Rhetoric, 1951-1989. New York: Praeger.

Lakoff, G. (2009, April 26). Beyond Rhetoric: The Central Role of Language and the Brain in Politics and Ethics. Penn State University, Kenneth Burke Lecture in Rhetoric. State College, PA.

Lakoff, G. (2009, February 24). The Obama Code. The Huffington Post. Retrieved May 2, 2009 from: code_b_169580.html.

Lakoff, G. (2004). Don’t Think of An Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. White River Junction: Chelsea Green.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

McCloskey, D.N. (1998). The Rhetoric of Economics (2nd ed.). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Musolff, A. (2008). What can critical metaphor analysis add to the understanding of racist ideology? Recent studies of Hitler’s anti-Semitic metaphors. Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines, 2(2), 1-10.

Schaffner, C. (2005). ‘It’s just a metaphor…’ – From visions to reality in political discourse on the European Union. In W. Thiele, J. Schwend, and C. Todenhagen (Eds.), Political Discourse: Different Media – Different Intentions – New Reflections (pp. 213-229). Tubingen, Germany: Stauffenburg.

Vandehei, J. & Harris, J.F. (2009, April 23). 100 days: What Obama wants you to read. Politico. Retrieved April 24, 2009 from: