Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama made his first address to Congress—the speech in which a president usually presents his agenda and starts to builds support for it. The New York Times was kind enough to count the number of times that Obama used certain words in the speech. From this analysis, we have a pretty good idea of Obama’s priorities and how they compare with the priorities of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton. Some observations:
The economy is job one. National surveys show that Americans are focused on the economy. So was the president. Obama used the words “economy” and “economic” 30 times and he word “jobs” another 14 times, underscoring the priority of economic issues in the new administration. Like Obama, Bill Clinton focused his first speech to Congress in 1993 on the economy. But the Clinton talked about the issue in more concrete terms than Obama: he used the word “jobs” 24 times, compared to Obama’s 14. This suggests that the former president was direct while the new president is more abstract. Bill Clinton was, of course, was the master of emotional appeals. Barack Obama’s appeals are more intellectual. The speech also gives us an good idea of Obama’s other priorities. After the economy, education was No. 2 on the issue hit parade, garnering 17 mentions. “Health care” was next with 16 mentions, then “energy” with 14. Health care reform is apparently as much of a concern to Obama as it was to Clinton. In his first speech to Congress, Bill Clinton used the phrase “health care” 18 times. Hopefully Obama will have more luck and less opposition reforming the system than his Democratic predecessor did.
The New York Times analysis indicates that Clinton was much more of a fiscal conservative than Obama is. President Clinton used the words “deficit” or “debt” 29 times while President Obama said the same words only 15 times. In his speech to Congress, Bill Clinton warned the nation about the perils of high taxes, using that dreaded T word 28 times. President Obama said “taxes” only 12 times. Curiously, in his speeches as president Obama has rarely used the word that was the theme of his campaign. President Obama said “change” only twice; Clinton used the word 12 times in his first address to Congress. During the 2008 campaign, the word “change” was as common in Barack Obama’s speeches as cold weather has been this winter. During the primaries, the Obama campaign slogan was “Stand up for change.” In the fall, the watchwords were “Change we believe in.” The word worked like gangbusters for candidate Obama because voters wanted change more than anything else. They still do, so President Obama might want to get the “C” back into the script.
Bannon is president of Bannon Communications Research, a political consulting and polling firm for Democratic candidates, labor unions and progressive issue groups.