Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Mary E. Stuckey

Second Advisor

M. Lane Bruner

Third Advisor

James Darsey

Fourth Advisor

George Pullman


A number of presidents have aided the auto industry, protected it from external threats, or saved it from collapse, while presidential rhetoric about the industry is positive and consistent across political parties and over time. I conduct rhetorical analyses of the entire history of presidential speech about the industry to explain the evolution of the relationship between these two institutions. I argue that this relationship is an example of the institutionalization of speech; perfunctory campaign praise became habitual and eventually coalesced into a rhetorical legacy that entailed rhetorical and material resources and constraints for the institution of the presidency. In the case of the auto industry, presidents sought political support from the auto industry as a constituency, erased blameworthy aspects of industry history, and created an industry identity that was exceptional, which served as justification for defense of the industry and intervention during periods of economic recession, regulatory stress, foreign competition, and imminent collapse of an automaker. Such cases of institutionalized speech between the presidency and other institutions are special, but not unique; this case provides an instructive example of how speech becomes legacy over time, and of what the consequences of such legacies might include for this case and for possible others.


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