Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Mass Communications

Major Professor

Kenneth Killebrew, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Larry Z. Leslie, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Randy Miller, Ph.D.


visual rhetoric, fantasy themes


This thesis endeavors to examine the imagery and rhetoric surrounding the portrayal of President Barack Obama during the national debate over health care reform from the summer of 2009 into the spring of 2010. It is argued that the critics of the health care reform legislation used images to portray the president as Adolf Hitler, Che Guevara, The Joker, as well as other images such as the swastika and the Wehrmacht symbol as stand-in euphemisms for race to discredit Barack Obama.

A number of exemplar images have been selected from various websites and publications specifically addressing the portrayal of Barack Obama not only in starkly menacing tones, but also in images suggesting the president is a villainous black man attempting to pass for white in order to accomplish his tyrannical goals.

The images used in this thesis speak to the power of fantasy themes and the use of fear in rhetorical imagery inasmuch as they attempt to stoke a narrative seizing upon the anxieties of an American public caught in the grip of difficult financial times, finding themselves being led by the nation’s first African-American president.

This thesis complements earlier research exploring the role of race in politics and public policy debates. And it is hoped this work will contribute to a better understanding of the growing influence of talk radio, as well as perhaps the need for greater civics literacy.