He used analogies that were homely, accessible, and clarifying without
being patronizing. Eg, "Just as a cash-strapped family may cut back on
luxuries but will insist on spending money to get their children
through college, so we as a country have to make current choices with
an eye on the future. If we don't invest now in renewable energy or a
skilled workforce or a more affordable health care system, this economy
simply won't grow at the pace it needs to in two or five or ten years
down the road." These are harder to come up with than they seem.
- Pushing just hard enough with a vivid metaphor, that of building on a rock. Viz:
There is a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells
the story of two men. The first built his house on a pile of sand,
and it was destroyed as soon as the storm hit. But 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."
We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. 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.
What I wasn't so crazy about: personal tics (of my own) in both cases.
Maybe it's only veterans of the Carter Administration who remember
this, but "new foundations," a leitmotif of this speech, was also the
motto of one of Carter's State of the Union addresses 30 years ago. The
phrase didn't catch on then. Or maybe it's been three decades in
- Obama has apparently decided to embrace, as an
affirmative policy rather than an ad-libbed nervous tic, ending his big
speeches with "God Bless the United States of America." It's there in
the prepared text, not thrown in on scene. Oh well. Every speech has
on the whole, a quite impressive job. No matter your view of his
policies before this speech - hostile, lukewarm, enthusiastic --
reasonable people would have to be moved an increment toward a more
positive view by the speech.*
* Oddly, the speech text itself seems not yet to be available on the WhiteHouse.gov site. (When they come up with it, it will be here.) Instead, again oddly, there is a blog item about the speech, with some excerpts. Come on guys, this is Gov 1.0-era thinking. UPDATE: The as-delivered transcription of the speech is now online here, for some reason classified under "Remarks" rather than "Speeches."
Update 2: A reader reminds me that Jimmy Carter was far from the first to talk about "new foundations." Eg:
No more tradition's chains shall bind us,
Arise you slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundations
From the Internationale. Daniel Patrick Moynihan made that point about Carter's speech soon after it was delivered.
Update 3: Ah, how the mists of time cloud these things! The Internationale rhapsodized about new foundations, while Jimmy Carter spoke movingly about a new foundation. Thanks to my former Carter collaborator (and successor) Rick Hertzberg.