As any political observer knows, partisan gridlock isn't just a fight over policy, it's a war of words.
Before President Obama had even uttered a word of his State of the Union address, one rhetorical battle line had already been drawn. Republicans issued a clear warning on the Sunday talk shows: When the president says "investing," don't be fooled. He means "spending."
Sure enough, the president used a variant of "invest" 13 times when talking about the economy and education during his speech. (He used "spend' just as frequently but only in the context of cutting or freezing spending).
Ben Zimmer, who writes the "On Language" column for the New York Times, says one reason the GOP launched the preemptive strike is because they sense the president has rediscovered his linguistic edge in recent weeks.
"Republicans recognize they are at rhetorical disadvantage," Zimmer said. "Obama has been on an upward path lately with improved popularity and the Tucson speech in part was something that ... established Obama as speaking from a position that is really above the fray."
Indeed, during the State of the Union, the president skillfully invoked the Tucson tragedy in his call for civility and used "family" as a unifying metaphor. As the word cloud below illustrates, Mr. Obama leaned heavily on the words "future", "America" "new" and "people" to bolster this message.
Zimmer notes that Mr. Obama also deftly used spatial metaphors to make his points - specifically "moving up" in order to transcend partisan politics and "moving forward" to the future. Accordingly he repeatedly rejected the notion of "going back" to the tired ideas of yesterday.
The figurative language didn't always score points for the president. Zimmer points to an airplane analogy that Mr. Obama made when talking about slashing key investments (not spending, of course): "Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine," Mr. Obama said. "It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."
"It struck a sour note," Zimmer said, adding that the grim "impact" analogy should have been recast.
Traditionally Republicans have been more adroit at spinning language and rebranding hot-button issues ("death tax," "death panel," and "government takeover of health insurance" are just a few examples). But Zimmer says a Democratic effort to level the rhetorical playing field (in part led by linguist George Lakoff) seems to be working.
It might also be helpful that Republicans have stumbled a bit.
When asked about the State of the Union, House Majority Leader, and vocal Obama critic, Rep. Eric Cantor reiterated that the GOP wants to be the "cut and grow" Congress - a play on "tax and spend" that falls flat, Zimmer says.
"'Cut and grow' doesn't sound like a winning catchphrase," he said. "It sounds like 'cut and run.'"
As for President Obama, his three-word slogan of the night was "win the future." As CBS News political analyst John Dickerson notes, the president used a variant of the slogan 11 times. The theme seemed to resonate (a CBS poll shows 9 in 10 Americans approved of his State of the Union proposals) - and sounded very much like a possible 2012 slogan.
But Zimmer notes that the president hardly has linguistic ownership of the phrase. For starters, Newt Gingrich called his 2005 book "Winning the Future." But perhaps the biggest obstacle to Mr. Obama using it as a campaign slogan? The domain WinTheFuture.com has already been registered with the Oregon Republican Party.
(CBS/AP) Two out three ain't bad.
Or, six out of nine as is the case for the Supreme Court's attendance rate at tonight's State of the Union speech.
Chief Justice John Roberts will lead a contingent of six Supreme Court justices at President Barack Obama's annual address, quieting speculation that only Democratic appointees to the court would attend.
Roberts had objected to the partisan atmosphere at last year's address, particularly after Mr. Obama offered rare criticism of the court during his speech.
Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg confirmed that six justices would be present at Tuesday's speech, although she would not say which ones. But as three justices had previously all but ruled themselves out, it seemed a safe assumption that Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy would join their four colleagues who were appointed by Democratic presidents.
Justice Samuel Alito, who mouthed the words "not true" in response to Obama's criticism (watch at left), is in Hawaii this week.
Meanwhile, Justice Antonin Scalia told The Hill on Monday that that he hasn't "gone to the State of the Union in at least 10 years, and I'm not starting tomorrow night either."
This should come as no surprise. The conservative justice told CBSNews.com legal analyst Jan Crawford in an interview at the Federalist Society dinner last fall not to expect him. "It is a juvenile spectacle, and I resent being called upon to give it dignity," he said. "It's really not appropriate for the justices to be there."
Still, there had been much speculation about which members of the high court might be no-shows at the annual speech after Mr. Obama last year used the platform to blast the court's decision on campaign finance reform.
According to Crawford, Clarence Thomas doesn't doesn't attend the State of the Union for similar reasons as Scalia.
Former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod said Thursday that she would consider legal action against the conservative blogger who posted the video that led to her ouster.
Speaking on CBS' Early Show, Sherrod said that while she hasn't actively talked about suing Andrew Breitbart, she "would definitely consider it."
Sherrod said that Breitbart's intentions were obvious - but misguided.
"As much as he's saying it was about the NAACP, he had to know that it was about me," Sherrod said. "He was willing to destroy me to get to what he thought -- to try to destroy the NAACP."
"He had to know what he was doing," she added. "I'm certain he didn't think the other side of the story would come out, but he knew he was misrepresenting the facts."
Sherrod also said that Breitbart had not apologized to her.
"I don't think I would ever receive an apology," she said.
Watch the video of the interview below:Continue »
President Barack Obama responded far too slowly to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and his political clout has already suffered, a Democratic and Republican strategist said Thursday.
"What you're seeing is the White House scrambling to try to get ahead of a story," Republican strategist Dan Bartlett, a former counselor for President George W. Bush, said on CBS' The Early Show. "Several weeks ago is when they should have given this speech to the American people."
Democratic strategist Rob Zimmerman agreed, saying Mr. Obama merely "pushed the restart button on this entire process."
"We saw the president yesterday seize control of this issue and take the leadership that, granted, should have happened weeks ago and now it's begun," Zimmerman said. "The real test will be how aggressively the administration follows up."Continue »
The biggest election day of the year heading into November came with a few surprises. But the real story was ladies night. Women from both parties dominated the political landscape.
While the BP oil spill and the government's "impotence" likely played a role, it is difficult to draw one central conclusion from the races because they were influence by everything from money and labor unions to the tea party and political plot lines reminiscent of "Desperate Housewives," says CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.
"There's just this general feeling that the government is sort of impotent to do much of anything about anything. And I think there's no question that has something to do with the voter frustration that's being felt out across the country," Schieffer said on CBS' The Early Show on Wednesday.
"But it really is hard to draw much deep analysis or deeper meaning from these races last night. Because they were all so different."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. said that he is introducing legislation that will move the United States to a "new energy economy" of producing green, clean energy - steps he says will help ensure that the disaster in the Gulf region won't happen again.
Speaking Wednesday on CBS' The Early Show, Kerry said that he and Sen. Lieberman have introduced the American Power Act, which emphasizes clean energy.
The goal, he said, is to "reduce pollution, clean up the air and water, create jobs and increase America's independence, thereby strengthening our national security."
However, he said that the United States was not yet in a position to freeze offshore drilling.
"We're not going to stop drilling all of a sudden," Kerry said.
For the media, it was an opportunity to tap a keg of sud-soaked clich?s.
Ever since President Obama announced he had invited Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley over for a conciliatory beer, the press has tried to out-clever each other with hops-heavy headlines.
"This is a matter of discipline and getting it right," Biden said. "That's what we intend to do."
Biden said all information relating to the implementation of the package's dollars would be put "transparently on a Web site" – although he stumbled (recovery.gov.
On Wednesday, an item appeared on PerezHilton.com (filed under Baby Blabber – Conspiracy Corner) with the headline: "White House Baby???"
"We're hearing talk in D.C. that Michelle Obama is pregnant," the post read.
But her "silver seating" access didn't exactly shield her from the day's mayhem. Berman and fellow New Yorker Janis Conner found themselves at the whim of the human tide as they fought their way to Mr. Obama's inauguration ceremonies. Then after being denied access at multiple subway stations, it took them 4 1/2 hours to get home.
"No one was out there telling us what was happening," Berman said, sipping a beer after the arduous trip home. "It was serendipity whether you got there or not."
Complete Inaugural Coverage
Dan and Toby Gowing, who came to the nation's capital from Middletown, N.J., were among the many who tried to make their way through the masses. But by the time they reached the edge of L'Enfant Plaza, they were thwarted by an endless wall of bodies.
"We've never experienced that before," said Toby Gowing, who was witnessing her first inauguration. "We got caught in a human gridlock and said, 'You know what? We don't want to go that bad.'"
Complete Inaugural Coverage
WASHINGTON -- After more than a year of neighborhood canvassing, working the phones and registering voters, volunteers at Harlem4Obama have traveled a long journey.
The volunteers are exuberant - but also reflective. Alima Berkoun, an immigrant who has lived in Harlem for 13 years, remembers months of sleeping on floors, working 18-hour days and ultimately winning over a wary neighborhood.
But some D.C. public school kids have already beaten her to the poetic punch.
A group of youngsters from an after-school program called DC SCORES recently performed an "Obama poetry slam" at an event marking Martin Luther King's birthday. The performance, which featured a keynote address by MLK's nephew at the Department of Health and Human Services, drew a standing ovation from 300 government employees.
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