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For Small Business Jobs Act, Obama’s the Casting Director

October 11, 2010


Image by Kate Holterhoff


When President Obama signed the Small Business Jobs Act into law in late September, he didn’t just point out that the bill is another campaign promise fulfilled and use a different pen to sign each letter of his name. He also showed how well he’s played casting director for The Small Business Jobs Act: An American Movie, directed by (who else?) the American people.

The profuse presidential thanks to a bevy of supporters weren’t a surprise. Even a less rhetorically stylish president has speechwriters. But anyone in the East Room who didn’t get a shout-out in Obama’s remarks must have spilled scalding coffee on the president’s favorite suit. Obama reviewed his cast list lovingly, attaching charming epithets to names and titles for viewers at home.

What part did Dick Durbin, long-time senator from Illinois, get?

“My dear friend—and my senator.” Representative Melissa Bean was also Obama’s “neighbor from Illinois.” Luke Ravenstahl, Pittsburgh’s boy mayor, was the guy “whose Steelers won last night.” Senator Mary Landrieu was a “champion for businesses in Louisiana and around the country.” And how to list Jennifer Granholm, governor of Michigan? How about “somebody who has been working so hard on behalf of the great state of Michigan”?

Even George Voinovich of Ohio and George LeMieux of Florida are in the credits as “the two Republican senators who bucked this partisanship to help pass this bill.”

But after the charming, if expected, thanks to representatives, senators, state governors, mayors, and Cabinet members, this showcasing of supporters became more than a series of political shout-outs. It became the president’s argument for the good that the bill will do for small business owners.

The small business owners, as the real stars of the show, got the full Joan Rivers treatment. Replace the comments on fashion designers and diamonds with how many jobs will be created, and you’ve got Obama’s red-carpet treatment of his cast.

Guy Brami, from Gelberg Signs, is here in Washington. And he’s making use of this tax break after he hired six workers. Cherrelle Hurt, who runs the As We Grow Child Care and Learning Center in Virginia, has been able to add three new employees.

In other words, no one on Obama’s thank-you list was a cameo and just happened to be in town when the president signed the bill. Everyone played a character in a story—a story with the moral argument that this bill really helps real small business owners.

Obama did make side remarks about the general provisions of the bill. He did offer platitudes about how small business owners are “the anchors of our Main Streets” and “part of the promise of America.” But he always came back to the cast members in the room:

Noel and Glen Mouritzen are also here. They’ll be able to use a loan to set up a repair shop for helicopters and hire four or five workers. Herb Caudill is on this list. And Herb’s company, Caudill Web, has a good problem: They’ve got more work than they can accept. So with this loan from SBA, he’ll be able to bring one or two new web programmers and designers to take on some new projects.

Obama as casting director has put together quite the ensemble. Or if you want an analogy closer to home, replace his cast revue with a lawyer’s call for Exhibit A, B, and C for evidence, and you’ve got Obama’s living proof (literally) that this bill benefits small business-owning Americans.

Obama’s cast of Everyman characters is in an American story (that takes place on Main Street, naturally), not a circus act of “real Americans, just like you, who will benefit from this bill!” The bill may provide the plot for this story, but it’s the characters we care about. It’s the characters we’ll remember when we review The Small Business Jobs Act: An American Movie. Herb Caudill and Noel and Glen Mouritzen are more persuasive than a paragraph on newly waived loan fees.

This is what making an argument by example—good, all-American examples who run child care centers and repair helicopters and who are hiring new workers—looks like. As Obama demonstrates, who needs constituencies when you can name everyone in the room and tell their stories?

If you want to know more:

  • Examples as argument has a long tradition; you can start with Aristotle’s “The Rhetoric.”
  • The official White House transcript of Obama’s remarks can be found here.
  • The official White House video of the signing and statement can be found here.

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