A NEW FOUNDATION…. When presidents pursue an ambitious agenda, which breaks with the recent past, the larger vision tends to get a name. We’ve seen a “New Deal,” a “Square Deal,” a “Fair Deal,” a “New Frontier,” and the drive for a “Great Society.”
President Obama is subtly hoping to build a “New Foundation.”
President Obama told doctors and insurers on Monday that revamping health care would “lay a new foundation for our economy.” He told graduating college students on Wednesday that “we need to build a new foundation.” He told consumers on Thursday that protecting them was vital “to the new foundation we seek to build.”
Ready for a new New Deal? How about the New Foundation? As Mr. Obama labors to pull the country out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression and simultaneously overhaul energy, education and health care, he has coined an expression to encapsulate his ambitious program in the same way Franklin D. Roosevelt did in the 1930s.
New Foundation may not come tripping off the tongue quite as easily as New Deal — it has twice as many syllables, after all — but it has become a staple of Mr. Obama’s speeches in the last month. Whether a 21st-century public buys a 20th-century political technique is another question.
“Every administration seeks to brand itself, and New Foundation certainly captures the recovery and rebuilding project on the president’s hands,” said Joel P. Johnson, a White House counselor under President Bill Clinton. “But only history decides whether or not it sticks or whether or not an era can be defined in a phrase. If he produces results, then New Foundation could be one for the books. If not … .”
It apparently started with a subtle reference in Obama’s inaugural address, when the president vowed to “act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.” It’s been thrown into 15 speeches and addresses since, with the president acknowledging this morning, “I have spoken repeatedly of the need to lay a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”
As frames go, a “New Foundation” isn’t bad. Its meaning is not immediately obvious — which is perhaps a bad sign — but thematically, it seems to tie together seemingly disparate agenda items. Health care reform isn’t just about reforming a broken system; it’s about providing a better foundation for future growth. Improving the nation’s energy framework isn’t only about addressing emissions in the short term; it’s about a stronger environmental and national security foundation for generations to come. Expanding access to good schools and higher education isn’t just about those students; it’s about providing a foundation for generational success.
Obama inherited a series of crises and a country moving quickly in the wrong direction, so he’s committed to a new foundation that the nation can build upon.
This does not appear to be an accidental rhetorical ploy. The White House hasn’t given the phrase a hard sell — aides probably hope to see the frame picked up organically — but when the president’s introductory remarks from his recent press conference were sent to reporters, the phrase “New Foundation” was capitalized.
These phrases don’t always stick. Some visions from previous presidents are barely remembered, and others — Clinton liked “New Covenant” for a while, but gave up when it didn’t stick — are quickly dispatched.
Will “New Foundation” have a future? Time will tell, of course, but it’s growing on me.