Obama's Appetite for "Unprecedented" Crisis and Response


Politico has a useful little story today:

Perhaps it was a sign when President Barack Obama sat down in January to record his first weekly address and announced: "We begin this year and this administration in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action." […]

Obama has said he "took office amid unprecedented economic turmoil" and that the situation demanded "unprecedented international cooperation" and resulted in his signing of the "unprecedented" Recovery Act. Yet it seems the Great Depression and the New Deal might be considered precedents for the current economic crisis and the $787 billion stimulus plan. […]

Andrew Jackson was the first president to use the word "unprecedented," in 1831, according to a search of the archives of The American Presidency Project. For more than 100 years afterward, presidents used the word "unprecedented" in 72 speeches and mostly reserved it for major addresses.

I swear to God this post wasn't just a thinly veiled excuse to run this photograph

But since FDR talked of meeting "the unprecedented task before us" during his first inaugural address in 1933, presidents have used the word on almost 2,000 occasions to describe everything from the death of Elvis Presley (Carter) to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (Reagan).

Obama has relied on "unprecedented" in more than 90 instances, using the word at least 129 times in everything from major addresses to small speeches, statements, memorandums and proclamations. (Bush, by contrast, used the word 262 times over eight years.)

Obama has used "unprecedented" to describe his efforts on science research, his plan for the auto industry and his administration's ethics, transparency and accountability guidelines.

He has promised an "unprecedented commitment" to education, to developing clean energy and "to preserving America's treasured landscapes," which, Obama has noted, have seen "unprecedented droughts" and "unprecedented wildfires" in the face of climate change.

Whole thing here; link via a less-impressed Dave Weigel.

Nick Gillespie's classic about the uses of "national pants-shitting moments" here. Gene Healy's examination of the link between presidential rhetoric and power-grabbing here.