Before Obama, who used 'built on rock' rhetoric?

Alex Wong/Pool/Sipa Press/Newscom
President Obama delivered a major economic speech at Georgetown University April 14 in Washington, D.C.

President Obama made a spirited defense of his economic policies Tuesday, answering his critics with a passage from the Bible to describe the new economy he wants to build.

"There's a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men," the president said in a speech at Georgetown University. "The first built his house on a pile of sand. And it was soon destroyed when a storm hit. The second is known as the wise man, for when 'the rain descended and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house, it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock.' "

From debtor's 'sand'

"We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand," the president went on. "We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity – a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest, where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad."

It's a powerful metaphor – Obama quoted from the King James Version of Matthew 7:25 – that surprisingly few presidents have used. President Reagan spoke about the need to "build a secure and lasting foundation for the American dream" when he was calling for budgetary reform.

In the 1964 campaign, President Johnson spoke about the choice to "move ahead by building on the solid structure created by forward-looking men of both parties over the past 30 years. Or whether we will begin to tear down this structure...."

Matthew ... and Millay

President Kennedy perhaps came the closest in remarks in 1963 – and he was quoting from Edna St. Vincent Millay's appropriation of the parable: "Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand. Come see my shining palace. It is built upon the sand."

That seems to leave the historic precedent to Winston Churchill in his famous 1946 "Iron Curtain" speech: "Before we cast away the solid assurances of national armaments for self-preservation we must be certain that our temple is built, not upon shifting sands or quagmires, but upon the rock."

Five pillars

Obama, however, was making the case for why his administration is tackling long-term problems even as it bails furiously to keep the recession-wracked economy afloat. He said the new economy had five pillars of investment: financial regulation, education investment, green-energy policy, healthcare reform, and deficit reduction. (Click here to see how the president is selling his plan.)

And he struck a rare note of optimism: "From where we stand, for the very first time, we're beginning to see glimmers of hope. And beyond that, way off in the distance, we can see a vision of America's future that is far different than our troubled economic past. It's an America teeming with new industry and commerce, humming with new energy and discoveries that light the world once more. A place where anyone from anywhere with a good idea or the will to work can live the dream they've heard so much about. That is the house upon the rock."


Have other presidents used the "built on the rock" parable? Comment below or Twitter us.

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