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.

NEXT: Moonbeam Blocks Sunlight

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    1. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  2. Obama's Appetite for "Unprecedented" Crisis and Response

    The words "Crisis" and "Action" (as in "Swift action", or "We must act NOW") are really buzz words for "We're going to make you poorer and less free, one more time."

  3. So, Obama's use of "unprecedented" is unprecedented?

    Yeah, I know, but someone had to say it.

  4. It could be that the word itself was not used much in the language before FDR's time. Count me in with the less-impressed.

    Also, there's the slightly inconvenient fact that far more presidential speech and writing is documented now than in the 19th century. I bet you'd find far more instances of the word "the" in recorded utterances of Obama than of Andrew Jackson, also, but that shouldn't lead us to conclude he has a strange predilection with the definite article.

    1. Good point. It wouldn't surprise me if modern presidents use ALL words 2000 times more than those from the early 19th century.

    2. I think the truth is somewhere inbetween. I know you're right about given words not bouncing around the vernacular as far back as Andy Jackson. But one does get a sense that Obama likes to say stuff like "now more than ever" and "now is the time" and "the moment is now". It seems like everything has a constant sense of urgency about it. I don't remember this constant state of ZOMG! WE MUST ACT. Of course it happened. But not every 2.5 minutes. I can't wake up in the morning and turn on NPR (why, just this morning) and hear someone screaming dooooom! Doooom! DOOOOOOOOOOOM UNLESS WE ACT NOW!

      1. wake up in the morning *without hearing*.

        We must get an edit button now NOW! NOW!!!!! Oh wait, that's why God invented preview.

    3. It's not the word "The" he uses more than anyone else, it's the word "I".

      1. Odd, isn't it, coming from a man whose political party despises the concept of the individual:


  5. "Precendented" things cannot justify the subsequent power grabs.
    America must be shocked, startled and stunned in order to be properly robbed.
    Obama is the Unprecedent of all the people.

  6. I call for Obama to be impeached...
    in other words: un-presidented!

    1. Impeachment is not enough; I call for the nation to be un-presidented.

  7. There a numerous ways to express the "Unprecedented" nature of the administration.

    The The Obama Budget was sure something without previous instance; the never before known Obama banking policy is notable; bailing out failed American automakers on the taxpayers' backs is something not previously experienced in national automotive policy; 9/11 attackers tried as civilians is unexampled; dithering rather than making a decision about Afghanistan is unparalleled; the stimulus package was certainly unique, it was extraordinary for Obama to scuttle the DC school voucher program, exceptional that Obama encouraged Massachusetts Democrats to overturn their recent Senate appointment law in order to fill Teddy's seat with a Democrat.

    All in all Obama seems to have a novel approach to governance!

  8. I really wish our Presidents would stop doing "unprecendented" things. It's rapidly becoming a synonym for "unconstitutional".

  9. At least Carter was right about Elvis. His death was unprecedented. As will be mine.

    OBTW, has anyone counted how many times BO has used the phrase, "let me be clear." He uses it all the time. The only suspense for me is waiting for him to insert the word "perfectly".

    1. The word "perfectly" will come back into vogue in that context about the time a Charlie Chaplin-like tiny mustache comes back into style, and for much the same reasons.

      (So does that count as Godwinning the thread?)

      1. It didn't until you went all parenthetical.

        1. Moe Howard was able to pull it off, but that was after Chaplin used it...

    2. His death was unprecedented.

      I dunno. With Presley's lifestyle, I wouldn't be surprised if his heart stopped more than a few times in those later years before ultimately not being able to start again.

  10. Let me be clear: there are those who would say that I use the word 'unprecedented' too often. This unprecedented criticism calls for an unprecedented response, and so far the Republican party has been unhelpful in crafting that response.

    1. As I read your words, I heard your impressive voice, Barack. You are so good for us right now, so very good for us.

      It kinda makes me hard when you speak, like you are talking right into me; your strong words confidently thrusting into my willing and pliable brain, over and over, until a feeling of pure pleasure engulfs me as your words spray like melted butter all over my mind.

      And to think people say your popularity is a cult, Ha! They just don't get it, Barack. They just don't get it like I do.

      1. We're not worthy! We're not worthy! We're scum!

  11. To an infant, everything is unprecedented.

    Obama is acting like a political newborn, including problems with the concept of object permanence.

    1. "To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child." ~ Cicero

    2. Well, he is the first President younger than me.

  12. When Obama says "unprecedented", what he means is "an opportunity for an incremental removal of some freedom".

    It's really just a minor translation glitch, from Obamaspeak into American English.

  13. A president this retarded and this black is unprecedented.

    I'm much more concerned about one than the other.

  14. What Hazel Meade and prolefeed said.

  15. I have noticed that the word extraordinary pops up a lot when he is off-prompter, also.

    "This extraordinary event is unprecedented in......err...Yes We Can!

  16. This just in: an unprecedented crisis was narrowly averted today when the Department of Unprecedented Crises was able to recall the Secretary from holiday vacation.

    We know return you to your normal unprecedented Tryptophan-induced semi-catatonic state.

  17. Ninety-nine percent of the time "unprecedented" is a signal that the person saying it hasn't read enough history.

    1. Well yeah, I mean we had Jimmy Carter. Most of the youngsters who voted for this latest disaster are too young to remember what he was like, though.

  18. A great line from the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Sanderson Reed is trying to get Sean Connery's character to help England out:

    Sanderson Reed: "The empire is in peril."
    Allan Quatermain: "You're probably too young to know, but the empire is always in some kind of peril."

    Likewise our country is always in some sort of crisis.

    1. How funny the Quatermain response sounds a lot like a line from Men In Black #1. Per chance it has always been thus??????

  19. Perhaps Mr. Obama could now use the word 'UNPRECENTED' in a sentence referring to the 'party crashers' at the State Dinner with no one questioning his use of the word.I believe that event truly was UNPRECEDENTED!

  20. This is what I find really confusing. Didn't Obama teach Constitional law? Hasn't he, a time or two, talked about the importance of respecting the Constitution? Isn't it baffling that his every actual action in office has been contrary to the Constitution? The world has become so Orwelian.

    You had Bush always going on about "freedom" when it was clearly the last thing he cared about and probably actually detested. You have Obama always talking about peace and the various American principles like the rule of law and respect for liberty while at the same time embracing and championing the precise opposite. You'd think people would notice.

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  22. At least unprecedented is a five syllable word. His new word du jour is "stuff". Count how many times he's said stuff within the last 2 weeks.

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