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It’s (Almost) Morning Again in America; or, Obama Recycles Reagan

October 4, 2011

Rhetorician, scholar, and teacher extraordinaire Richard Young spoke at the English Department colloquium at our dear ol’ doctoral alma-mater-to-be today. As the premise for his talk “Roads Not Taken: Francis Christensen and the Senecan Amble,” Young paraphrased John Dewey’s assertion that we do not solve our problems, we merely replace one set of problems with another.

A witty observer might note that this seems to be the case in the political sphere. After all, didn’t we replace Iraq with Iran and Syria? But times are tough economically, so we’ve gone green as much as possible and started recycling our problems. Specifically, our economic problems.

But where there’s a problem, there’s a solution, right? Be optimistic! Barack Obama is still an optimist that Congress will pass his jobs bill, and he’s been campaigning on the bill’s behalf for almost a month already. Obama has faith that it will be morning in America again–a glorious morning when every American can wake up, have a cup of coffee, and head to work.

Sound familiar? Obama has gone green in a big way and wants you to know that even if economic problems have been recycled, so has the solution. Consider his (staff’s) tweet from earlier today:

The linked video takes you to spliced footage of Obama and Reagan making the same point about closing tax loopholes so that a bus driver doesn’t pay more in taxes than a millionaire (Reagan) and so that Warren Buffet’s secretary doesn’t pay more in taxes than Warren Buffet (Obama). Obama is hoping that his invocation of Reagan–both the man and his policies–will convince the Republicans in Congress that his jobs bill doesn’t require them to stray too much toward the other end of the political spectrum and that, really, Obama is more than meeting them halfway. (For which he’s not winning points from either side.)

With all this recycling of problems and solutions going on–and with this video as a prime example–it makes sense to bring up intertextuality. We’ve mentioned it a few times on the blog, but I’ll quote Frank D’Angelo’s definition of the term from his recent, excellent article “The Rhetoric of Intertextuality”:

[E]very text is connected to other texts by citations, quotations, allusions, borrowings, adaptations, appropriations, parody, pastiche, imitation, and the like… In sum, intertextuality describes the relationships that exist between and among texts. (D’Angelo 33)

D’Angelo goes on to name several types of intertextual strategies, and I think we can safely categorize Obama’s invocations of Reagan as the second type:

The second mode of intertextuality is retro (sometimes called recycling). Retro is related to nostalgia, an idealized longing for the past… The word recycling refers to the process of “reconditioning and adapting to a new use or function.” … It is not “a mere imitation,” but it “often involves an ironic attitude toward the earlier style” (297). (D’Angelo 35)

Sometimes intertextuality happens accidentally; sometimes it’s strategic. In Obama’s case, it’s very much the latter. How else to increase his own ethos in Republicans’ eyes if not by wearing Reagan’s mantle?


If you want to know more:

  • D’Angelo’s article “The Rhetoric of Intertextuality” was published in 2010 in Rhetoric Review, 29(1), pp. 31-47.
  • Time ran an interesting piece on Obama’s infatuation with Reagan early this year.
  • Fox News also has noticed the infatuation.
  • NPR couldn’t help but notice.
  • The New York Times has noticed, too, but also points out some major differences in the two presidents’ outcomes.
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