Obama’s Economic and Fiscal Crises Address: An End, Or a Means to an End?

Although President Barack Obama’s first Address before a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening was pitched by the White House as a “plan to confront our nation’s economic and fiscal crises,” more than 70 percent of his speech focused on other domestic or foreign policy issues.

A Smart Politics content analysis of Obama’s speech reveals, as expected, that the President was much less focused on foreign affairs in this speech than his predecessor, George W. Bush. In his 2008 State of the Union Address, 56.6 percent of Bush’s speech (measured by the number of sentences delivered) discussed the nation’s foreign policy challenges, including Iraq (16.5 percent), national security (6.4 percent), trade (5.5 percent), and terrorism (4.9 percent).

In Obama’s address on Tuesday, only 10.3 percent of his speech addressed foreign policy issues, with only 2 sentences on Iraq (compared to 54 for Bush a year ago) and just 6 lines on terrorism (compared to 16 for Bush).

Obama’s focus was plainly on domestic policy, with 76.1 percent of his speech addressing concerns at home, compared to just 35.0 percent for Bush in 2008.

General Policy Areas in Presidential Addresses Before Congress, 2008-2009

Policy area
Bush 1/28/08
Obama 2/24/09
Domestic
35.0
76.1
Foreign
56.6
10.3
Other (non-policy)
8.3
13.6

Source: Content analysis by Smart Politics.

However, despite being the White House’s selling point for the Address, the economy and jobs (10.0 percent) and the nation’s struggling financial system and credit problems (17.9 percent) barely accounted for a quarter of Obama’s speech.

Instead, Obama spent an even greater amount of his time before the captive American audience on education (12.1 percent), health care (9.3 percent), and energy policy (7.9 percent) – totaling more than 28 percent of his speech overall. In 2008, President Bush spent only 11.6 percent of his speech on these three issues.

Tied together with his remarks on and justifications for government spending (12.5 percent of the speech), Obama seized the moment to lay out some of his administration’s bold domestic priorities (e.g. green energy, universal health care), under the guise of, and loosely tied to, a speech sold as a plan to address the nation’s economic and fiscal crises.

True, Obama did attempt to make direct linkages between these priorities and the national crises at hand. On the issue of energy, Obama laid out his renewable energy plan in the context of, “making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.”

But the linkages were not always so clean. For example, Obama claimed the “crushing cost of health care…(would) cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes.”

Already heralded as one of the great orators ever to hold the nation’s highest office, Obama peppered his speech with several passages of vague language meant to inspire a nation in crisis, and reassure the country that Americans will courageously face all of its great challenges:

“We are not quitters…even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.”

More than 11 percent of Obama’s speech spoke loosely on these general challenges America must face, compared to just 3.1 percent by his predecessor in 2008, who, to be sure, was not known for his oratory skills.

In other words, just as Republicans criticized the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for programs in the legislation that do not seem directly related to stimulating the economy and rebuilding the nation’s financial institutions (to the tune of several billion dollars), so too did Obama’s admittedly well-delivered speech on the nation’s economic and fiscal crises drift off into other subjects and policy areas (to the tune of nearly three-quarters of his Address).

Specific Policies in Presidential Addresses Before Congress, 2008-2009

Issue
Bush’08
Percent
Obama’09
Percent
Financial system
0
0.0
50
17.9
Government spending
11
3.4
35
12.5
Education
19
5.8
34
12.1
Challenges for America
10
3.1
31
11.1
Economy / jobs
13
4.0
28
10.0
Health care
8
2.4
26
9.3
Energy
11
3.4
22
7.9
Taxes
17
5.2
8
2.9
Terrorism
16
4.9
6
3.1
Veterans
12
3.7
6
3.1
Housing
7
2.1
6
2.1
Bi-partisanship
3
0.9
5
1.8
Entitlements
4
1.2
4
2.1
Transportation
0
0.0
4
1.4
Foreign relations (general)
0
0.0
3
1.1
Iraq
54
16.5
2
1.0
Afghanistan
8
2.4
2
1.0
Formal remarks
1
0.3
2
0.7
Trade
18
5.5
1
0.5
Israel
5
1.5
1
0.5
Technology
4
1.2
1
0.5
Religion
1
0.3
1
0.5
Crime
0
0.0
1
0.5
Agriculture
0
0.0
1
0.4
National security
21
6.4
0
0.0
World Freedom
16
4.9
0
0.0
Individualism
13
4.0
0
0.0
Iran
13
4.0
0
0.0
World aid
12
3.7
0
0.0
Immigration
10
3.1
0
0.0
Charities
6
1.8
0
0.0
Judiciary
4
1.2
0
0.0
Natural disasters
4
1.2
0
0.0
Stem cells
3
0.9
0
0.0
Cloning
3
0.9
0
0.0
Total
327
100.0
280
100.0

Source: Content analysis by Smart Politics. Unit of measurement is a sentence.

3 Comments on "Obama’s Economic and Fiscal Crises Address: An End, Or a Means to an End?"

  1. Hope to see some efforts put into the energy policy of our country.

  2. I did not hear much about the automotive industry lately. I may have missed it in his speeches.

  3. Sure glad he was talking about universal health care. So many Americans can’t even afford basic living necessities and he wants to charge them 25% on everything that they buy. Great idea! What an idiot. How can we as a nations pay for the health care costs when we are 11 trillion dollars in debt. There is no way we can afford that right now. The best thing that we can do is stop spending/printing money. We need to stabilize before we can start giving away more government money. Oops, i mean our money.

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