This essay expands James Aune’s theory of the econo-rhetorical presidency to analyze how presidents define the U.S. fiscal situation. By “fiscal situation,” I refer to any rhetorical representation of the federal government’s ability to create and spend money, levy and collect taxes, and issue debt. Through historical analysis of the “balanced budget” topos in presidential discourse, I find that Presidents Carter through Obama tended to define the U.S. fiscal situation in austere terms, with balanced budgets figured as deontological goods unto themselves. I conclude by advocating for increased critical engagement with economic theory, generally, and theories of the U.S. fiscal situation, specifically.

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