Seeing Through the Clouds

January 31, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Tag clouds offer content analysis at a glance. Here, for example, is the cloud of Monday’s State of the Union speech.

The biggest tags are no surprise: America, Iraq, people, terrorists. Nor are hope and future, which fit with the often-noted American cultural traits of optimism and future orientation (besides, it might have been difficult for Bush to look backward and review the list of his accomplishments).

Two tags of about the same size as these got my interest: trust and world. Here, you have to look at the contexts, and you have to look at what does not appear in those contexts, to understand what they mean in the Bush perspective.

Trust is usually a reciprocal sentiment, and Bush might have stressed the trust that people must have in their government, particularly in time of war. Or he might have said something about his administration having kept the trust of the American people (or would that have been too much of a stretch even for Bush?).

Instead, the speech was all about the government trusting the people. In fact, lurking not very deep in the subtext is the idea that the government itself is not to be trusted, certainly to be trusted with money (all those earmarks). This trust-the-people theme is, of course, just a flattering way of saying that the government is not going to do much for the people. Instead, the Bush administration will trust us to take care of ourselves as best we can.

The Bush view of “the world” is similarly unreconstructed. American exceptionalism reigns. No “taking our place among the nations of the world” or “working together for a better world.” Instead, Bush looks at America and the world as though he were a fan at a football game: We’re number one, and they’re out to get us. Cooperation with other countries is not an option, unless, of course, they want to co-operate by doing what we tell them.

“We showed the world the power and resilience of American self-government.” Take that, world.

I haven’t seen any polls yet measuring popular response to the speech. But I wonder if this stuff still sells.

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