Who Said It, Obama or Nixon?

The answer will be both when Obama delivers a State of the Union speech that uses language of past presidents.

National Journal
George E. Condon Jr.
Jan. 26, 2014, 10:05 a.m.

When Pres­id­ent Obama be­gins his State of the Uni­on ad­dress Tues­day night, listen closely and you’ll hear echoes of Richard Nix­on, Jimmy Carter, and many of the pres­id­ents who pre­ceded him to the po­di­um. Listen par­tic­u­larly hard when he says the word “new.” For when it comes to this an­nu­al ad­dress there is no word more favored by this pres­id­ent — and all his pre­de­cessors — than “new.”

In his pre­vi­ous four State of the Uni­on speeches, it popped up 132 times, top­ping out at 42 in­stances in 2011 and 34 last year. And that doesn’t even rank Obama at the top of the pres­id­en­tial heap over the last six dec­ades. Pres­id­ent Clin­ton was the cham­pi­on of “new” with 275 us­ages, in­clud­ing 53 in his 1998 ad­dress. Dwight Eis­en­hower was next with 171 cita­tions, then Obama, fol­lowed by Nix­on with 119 and George W. Bush with 101. At the bot­tom is Carter with only 36 “news” in his three speeches. Sur­pris­ingly, it was a two-term pres­id­ent, Ron­ald Re­agan, who shunned al­most all things “new” in his speeches. Re­agan said the word only 42 times in sev­en ad­dresses.

Ex­cept for Re­agan, all of the last 11 pres­id­ents have tried to use their an­nu­al trip to Cap­it­ol Hill to ap­pear act­iv­ist, en­gaged, and for­ward-look­ing — all things that speech­writers try to cap­ture with the word “new.” Com­bine that with pres­id­en­tial envy of Woo­drow Wilson’s New Free­dom, Frank­lin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and John F. Kennedy’s New Fron­ti­er, and you’ve got dozens of failed at­tempts to sell fresh and snappy terms.

But, as Obama has learned, “new” doesn’t al­ways mean new. Pres­id­ents — some­times without even real­iz­ing it — bor­row phrases and ideas from their pre­de­cessors. Ex­pect to hear this pres­id­ent use his speech this year to push Con­gress to make 2014 “a year of ac­tion.” It’s a phrase he pre­viewed earli­er this month. But there is noth­ing new here. It is bor­rowed. Cred­it Nix­on for this one. In his State of the Uni­on in 1972, he com­plained that Con­gress had ig­nored his le­gis­lat­ive agenda over the past 12 months. That, he said, had been “a year of con­sid­er­a­tion.” But, he ad­ded, “Now, let us join in mak­ing 1972 a year of ac­tion on them, ac­tion by the Con­gress, for the na­tion, and for the people of Amer­ica.”

Pres­id­ents are “al­ways look­ing for a simple, easy-to-re­mem­ber mes­sage on top of all their policy pro­pos­als,” said Wil­li­am Gal­ston, Clin­ton’s chief do­mest­ic policy ad­viser. “Something that not only gives some rhet­or­ic­al lift but gives the people listen­ing to the speech the im­pres­sion that it all ties to­geth­er, that all these spe­cif­ic ideas are in pur­suit of a com­mon goal or a com­mon vis­ion.” Gal­ston ad­ded, “Un­der­ly­ing that is the mes­sage of lead­er­ship — ‘Hey, I know what I am do­ing. I am here for a pur­pose. I’m a clear-eyed, goal-ori­ented, mis­sion-ori­ented lead­er.’ And a good slo­gan can con­vey all of that.”

That has giv­en us Clin­ton’s New Cov­en­ant, Nix­on’s New Fed­er­al­ism, and Carter’s New Found­a­tion, all terms un­veiled in a State of the Uni­on ad­dress. Carter’s was per­haps the most un­for­tu­nate in 1979. He used the term five times and the word “found­a­tion” 13 times. But only three days later — after much mock­ing that a “new found­a­tion” had something to do with wo­men’s un­der­gar­ments — Carter cast the cam­paign aside, telling re­port­ers, “I doubt it will sur­vive. We are not try­ing to es­tab­lish this as a per­man­ent slo­gan. It was the theme that was es­tab­lished … for one State of the Uni­on speech.” For­get that the White House had, in­deed, been selling it as a per­man­ent slo­gan.

Just as ad­vert­isers now use the Su­per Bowl to un­veil new products, pres­id­ents use the State of the Uni­on to pitch new slo­gans. Some that have failed al­most as miser­ably as New Found­a­tion in re­cent dec­ades have been New Part­ner­ship (offered by at least four pres­id­ents), New Fed­er­al­ism, New Be­gin­nings, New Road, New Ap­proach (paired by three pres­id­ents with policy to­ward Lat­in Amer­ica), New Dir­ec­tion, New Amer­ic­an Re­volu­tion, New Bal­ance, New Spir­it, New Spir­it of Part­ner­ship, New Chal­lenge, and New Cov­en­ant.

There has been so much re­pe­ti­tion that even Carter’s un­la­men­ted New Found­a­tion was re­cycled by none oth­er than the cur­rent pres­id­ent. In his first in­aug­ur­al ad­dress, Obama de­clared, “The state of our eco­nomy calls for ac­tion: bold and swift. And we will act not only to cre­ate new jobs but to lay a New Found­a­tion for growth.” Obama then de­voted a later speech to the concept of a New Found­a­tion and used the phrase dozens of times un­til the White House be­came con­vinced nobody knew what it meant and switched to “Win the Fu­ture.”

He is hop­ing for bet­ter luck with his bor­rowed “Year of Ac­tion.”

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4679) }}

What We're Following See More »
‘PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE’
Priebus Asks Party to Unite Behind Trump
11 hours ago
THE LATEST
FEELING THE MIDWESTERN BERN
Sanders Upsets Clinton in Indiana
12 hours ago
THE LATEST

Despite trailing Hillary Clinton by a significant margin, Bernie Sanders wasn't going the way of Ted Cruz tonight. The Vermont senator upset Clinton in Indiana, with MSNBC calling the race at 9pm. Sanders appears poised to win by a five- or six-point spread.

Source:
TRUMP IS PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE
Ted Cruz Bows Out, Effectively Ceding the Contest to Trump
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

And just like that, it's over. Ted Cruz will suspend his presidential campaign after losing badly to Donald Trump in Indiana tonight. "While Cruz had always hedged when asked whether he would quit if he lost Indiana; his campaign had laid a huge bet on the state." John Kasich's campaign has pledged to carry on. “From the beginning, I’ve said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory,” said Cruz. “Tonight, I’m sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed."

Source:
TAKES AT LEAST 45 DELEGATES
Trump Wins Indiana, All but Seals the Nomination
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Republican establishment's last remaining hope—a contested convention this summer—may have just ended in Indiana, as Donald Trump won a decisive victory over Ted Cruz. Nothing Cruz seemed to have in his corner seemed to help—not a presumptive VP pick in Carly Fiorina, not a midwestern state where he's done well in the past, and not the state's legions of conservatives. Though Trump "won't secure the 1,237 delegates he needs to formally claim the nomination until June, his Indiana triumph makes it almost impossible to stop him. Following his decisive wins in New York and other East Coast states, the Indiana victory could put Trump within 200 delegates of the magic number he needs to clinch the nomination." Cruz, meanwhile, "now faces the agonizing choice of whether to remain in the race, with his attempt to force the party into a contested convention in tatters, or to bow out and cede the party nomination to his political nemesis." The Associated Press, which called the race at 7pm, predicts Trump will win at least 45 delegates.

Source:
THE QUESTION
What’s the Average Household Income of a Trump Voter?
18 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Seventy-two thousand dollars, according to FiveThirtyEight. That's higher than the national average, as well as the average Clinton or Sanders voter, but lower than the average Kasich voter.

Source:
×