Obama's Word Choice: "Stand with"


President Obama recently chastised investment funds that would not compromise to keep Chrysler out of bankruptcy.  "I don't stand with them," he said. "I stand with Chrysler's employees and their families and communities. I stand with Chrysler's management, its dealers, and its suppliers. I stand with the millions of Americans who own and want to buy Chrysler cars."


            Obama's use of the phrase "stand with" was a little unusual, and some have suggested it was a careless misstatement -- that he really meant "stand for."   I think he meant exactly what he said.  If his purpose was to be firm but not polarizing, "I will not stand for" would sound too autocratic.  But with Obama's current popularity, many would respond well to the image of him standing with -- at the side of -- certain groups but not others. 

"Stand with"

I think the use of "stand with" is more common in political settings than in normal speech, joining "my fellow" and "the great state of" in the tool box of political rhetoric.  I suspect that these phrases often play the part of metric stop-gaps in off-the-cuff speeches, allowing the speaker to insert them as needed to maintain rhythm, much like oral epic poets since Homer's day have used stock epithets to reconstruct their tales on the fly.  Obama is an extraordinary orator and has in this case used this element to great effect, but it is still the rough clay that Jackson Day speakers will long employ in their pledges to "stand with my fellow Democrats in furthering the aspirations of the people of this great Commonwealth of Kentucky" while the crowd chokes down dry chicken dinners.