Saturday, May 16, 2009
Phrase Being Groomed as a Slogan
May 16, 2009
Familiar Obama Phrase Being Groomed as a Slogan
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — President Obama told doctors and insurers on Monday that revamping health care would “lay a new foundation for our economy.” He told graduating college students on Wednesday that “we need to build a new foundation.” He told consumers on Thursday that protecting them was vital “to the new foundation we seek to build.”
Ready for a new New Deal? How about the New Foundation? As Mr. Obama labors to pull the country out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression and simultaneously overhaul energy, education and health care, he has coined an expression to encapsulate his ambitious program in the same way Franklin D. Roosevelt did in the 1930s.
New Foundation may not come tripping off the tongue quite as easily as New Deal — it has twice as many syllables, after all — but it has become a staple of Mr. Obama’s speeches in the last month. Whether a 21st-century public buys a 20th-century political technique is another question.
“Every administration seeks to brand itself, and New Foundation certainly captures the recovery and rebuilding project on the president’s hands,” said Joel P. Johnson, a White House counselor under President Bill Clinton. “But only history decides whether or not it sticks or whether or not an era can be defined in a phrase. If he produces results, then New Foundation could be one for the books. If not ... .”
Mr. Obama introduced the catchall phrase in his Inaugural Address in January. “The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift,” he said that day, “and we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.”
But it took months before White House officials decided to emphasize the phrase in a sustained way. Then he gave a much-ballyhooed speech at Georgetown University on April 14 to lay out a broader vision for his presidency and used the phrase eight times. He cited a parable from the Sermon on the Mount about two men who build houses, one on sand and the other on rock; the former is blown away by a storm, the latter remains standing tall against the winds. The talk was called “the New Foundation speech,” and in the month since then, Mr. Obama has weaved the phrase into 15 public addresses.
His most recent citation came Saturday morning when Mr. Obama devoted his weekly radio and Internet address to the concept, arguing that clean energy and expanded health care access would contribute to such a new foundation. The president even referred to his constant refrain, noting that recently “I have spoken repeatedly of the need to lay a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”
The signal that his advisers wanted to establish it as a formal rubric came last month on the night of his most recent prime-time news conference, when prepared introductory remarks released by the White House capitalized the phrase as New Foundation.
While White House officials did not respond to inquiries on the phrase, John D. Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition and still advises him informally, said it made it “easy to understand why three big reform projects — health, energy and education — are part of a coherent overall economic strategy for sustainable equitable growth.”
Stanley B. Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, said it described both the status of the country Mr. Obama inherited as well as where he wanted to take it.
“It is making a values critique and values offer: a country whose leaders were irresponsible, greedy, hiding from big problems and thinking only of the short term without accountability,” Mr. Greenberg said. “New Foundation captures the idea of acting with seriousness of purpose with responsibility and for country.”
Others are not so sure.
“I think recent attempts to coin phrases suffer from over testing and over focus-grouping,” said Russ Schriefer, a Republican political strategist.
Mr. Schriefer said he was “not sure F.D.R. contracted with the Gallup organization to test the phrase New Deal.”
“That combined with our 24/7 news cycle, the contact sport of cable news,” he continued. “It is harder to stay on message for a week, let alone an entire administration.”
Such slogans used to be common even before Roosevelt introduced his “New Deal for the American people” in accepting the Democratic nomination in 1932. Theodore Roosevelt had promised a Square Deal, and Woodrow Wilson a New Freedom; later, Harry S. Truman promised a Fair Deal, John F. Kennedy a New Frontier and Lyndon B. Johnson a Great Society.
More recent presidents have had trouble making their labels stick. Mr. Clinton called for a New Covenant in a series of speeches at Georgetown in 1991 as he ran for president, but pollsters turned thumbs down and he largely dropped it. George W. Bush championed an Ownership Society when he ran for re-election in 2004, but that also made little public impression.
Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, suspects Mr. Obama’s expression may suffer the same fate.
“I’m not sure what it means,” Mr. Dallek said. “The successful slogans tied in a convincing way to current events. T.R.’s Square Deal, F.D.R.’ s New Deal, J.F.K.’s New Frontier and L.B.J.’s Great Society all resonated because they summed up what their presidents intended and what the public was eager for at the time.”
“I guess you could say the same for the New Foundation,” he added, “but foundation doesn’t strike me as a word people will comfortably take to.”
Posted by Independent Intellect at 09:34