Quietly, Obama’s ‘new foundation’ sinks into slogan history


WASHINGTONLyndon Johnson envisioned a “Great Society.” Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans a “New Deal.” President Barack Obama is building a “New Foundation” — or, at least, he was.

The catchphrase that Obama used in his inaugural
address to describe his vision for the American economy looks to have
been retired. In its place is the forward-looking exhortation: “Win the

Obama rolled out the new slogan at a routine visit to a community college in Winston-Salem, N.C., in December, an off-Broadway tryout of sorts. He mentioned it again in his weekly radio address on Jan. 22. Then came the unveiling on the biggest stage possible: the State of the Union address.

The final score at evening’s end: nine references to winning the future; goose egg for “new foundation.”

When it works, a pithy presidential slogan is a
powerful communicative tool, helping distill complex policies in ways
the public can easily grasp. If nothing else, it should be memorable.

But “new foundation” never seeped into the popular culture.

“You don’t know what that is,” said Jamal Simmons,
a Democratic strategist. “You need another phrase to explain what the
‘new foundation’ is for. But everyone can kind of understand what
‘winning the future’ means.”

Obama’s last reference to the “new foundation” came way back on Oct. 9, according to records kept by the American Presidency Project at University of California, Santa Barbara. It’s doubtful the old line will be missed.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential biographer, said:
“It reminds me of the old days when women wore foundation garments —
girdles. So when he said, ‘new foundation,’ I thought, ‘Oh my God!
Those girdles!’ “

Before it disappeared from the presidential lexicon, though, “new foundation” got quite a workout.

Obama invoked it 100 times as president, according to the Presidency Project’s records. He used it in campaign stops, fundraising events and weekly radio addresses.

In an appearance at Georgetown University in April 2009, he built an entire speech around the concept.

Obama came up with the phrase on his own. An aide
said that while editing the inaugural address, Obama suggested it as a
way to capture his vision for where he wanted to take the country.

As it turns out, he wasn’t the first president to give “new foundation” a whirl. Jimmy Carter mentioned the term six times in the State of the Union speech in January 1979, telling the nation “we are building a new foundation for a peaceful and a prosperous world.”

“Doonesbury” then got into the act, lampooning the former president. The popular cartoon strip showed a picture of the White House below a caption that read: ” … The contractors are here to start work on the ‘new foundation.’ ” “Good! Send ’em in!”

Girdles, unsteady houses — the phrase evokes images that neither Carter nor Obama intended.

Robert Schlesinger, author of “White House Ghosts:
Presidents and Their Speechwriters,” said that Carter aides were
casting about for a catch phrase akin to John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier,” or LBJ’s “Great Society.” After rolling out “new
foundation” at the State of the Union address, Carter promptly dropped
it, Schlesinger said.

Given Carter’s record as a one-term president who
presided over high unemployment and an energy crisis, Schlesinger said
he was surprised Obama would echo what he called “a Carter-ism.”

“They have enough bright people in the White House to come up with a different formulation — especially since this isn’t a ‘Wow, knock ’em over!’ ” kind of phrase, he said.

Now it seems the new formulation is in place.

Speaking to commentator Bill O’Reilly in a pre-Super Bowl interview Sunday, Obama talked about how Americans were disillusioned with the bickering in Washington over the last two years.

Elaborating, he said: “And they don’t like the
process and they felt that our focus wasn’t on what they’re focused on,
which is how to win the future.”


(c) 2011, Tribune Co.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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