On the Presidents’ Speeches

With Pres. Obama’s State of the Union speech airing live tonight, a visual retrospective of the rhetorical and philosophical patterns of SotUs over the past 75 years. Interesting stuff and kudos to the editors and designers who thought of this.


‘jobs’ – With unemployment above 9 percent, jobs will likely remain a focus of President Obama’s speech. Historically, jobs get mentioned in the speech in rough correlation to the economic cycle, with spikes around 1975, 1981, 1991 and 2002.

‘invest’ – Historically, Democrats use this word more than Republicans, and they mean “public” investment, or new government programs. Bill Clinton used it a lot at the beginning and end of his term, first to propose new programs, and last to take credit for successful ones.

‘deficit’ – Presidents have tended to use the word in their initial State of the Union speeches, usually to cast blame on their predecessors. Presidents who ran up big deficits, like George W. Bush, tended to say little or nothing about them.

‘small business’ … ‘Social Security’ … ‘power’ … ‘compete’ … ‘health care’ … ‘bipartisan’ … ‘terror’ … ‘enemies’ … ‘freedom’ … ‘Afghanistan’

‘tax’ – Presidents have used the word every year since 1981, when Mr. Reagan uttered it 30 times, detailing his plan to reduce taxes and government spending.

‘recommend’ – This term, redolent of civics-class advice and consent, has gone the way of the Edsel. Mr. Eisenhower used it dozens of time in the context of his dealings with Congress, but it has been employed only rarely in the last 15 speeches. The following words have had the opposite trend, with little or no use before 1970: dramatic, agenda, Republican, discipline, focus.


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