Have you noticed how often our presidents say they "will not rest?"
(AP Photo )
Addressing the nation's governors this morning, President Obama assured them he's "not going to rest" until there's more economic progress in each of their states.
In his Economic Report to Congress last week, Mr. Obama went to great rhetorical lengths to stress his determination to move the nation beyond the recession.
"My administration will not rest" until jobs are created to replace those lost and America is back at work.
When a president declares he "will not rest" until some goal is achieved, he wants you to know he means business.
Since taking office, Mr. Obama has used the phrase at least eleven times on different aspects of his domestic agenda.
• "I will not rest until anybody who's looking for a job can find one," he told workers at a GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio last September.
• "I will not rest until the dream of health care reform is finally achieved in the United States of America," he said last May 11.
• "We will not rest until we reach a day when not one single veteran falls into homelessness," he declared last April.
The phrase also serves Mr. Obama when he needs to sound tough and determined on foreign policy and national security matters. After the earthquake in Haiti, he voiced concern for missing U.S. citizens:
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
"We will not rest until we account for our fellow Americans in harms way."
And after the terror attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day, Mr. Obama vowed to get to the bottom of the plot.
"We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable."
Use of the phrase did not begin with Mr. Obama. Far from it. It showed up frequently in the speeches of his predecessors when they were trying to be emphatic about various objectives.
On some 40 occasions, President George W. Bush made the "will not rest" phrase the centerpiece of his rhetorical determination to defeat al Qaeda in the war on terror.
"This country will not rest, we will not tire, we will not stop until this danger to civilization is removed."
Speaking for the nation, Mr. Bush asserted again and again on a variety of issues that "We will not rest:"
• "...until the war on terror is won."
• "...in our efforts to support the North Korean people as they strive to achieve the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled as human beings."
• "...until every child receives a quality education in our country."
• "...until the Lebanese people enjoy full independence."
• "...until the promise of freedom reaches people everywhere across the globe."
• "...on our laurels."
• "...until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedoms in Havana they receive here in America."
• "...until life is back to normal, the damage repaired and the homes are rebuilt."
• "...until every American who wants to work can find a job."
• "...we have economic security for everybody who lives in America."
• "...until our victory against breast cancer is complete."
On scores of occasions, other presidents also enjoyed the rhetorical flourish provided by the "will not rest" phrase. Most times, they alluded to goals which they knew could not be accomplished. But President Bill Clinton scored a hit a not long after making this assertion in 1998, a decade after the bombing of Pan Am 103.
"We will not rest until Libya complies with the requirements of the World community and surrenders for trial in the United States or Scotland the two Libyans accused of that brutal crime."
Libya eventually did turn over the suspects, and did abandon its program to produce weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. now has normal diplomatic relations with the government of leader Moammar Qadhafi.
Since the days of the Vietnam War, the "will not rest" phrase has been used by every president making a pledge about U.S. military personnel listed as POWs or MIAs.
It began with an open letter written in 1970 by then-President Richard Nixon to the families of American prisoners of war in Southeast Asia.
"We will not rest until every prisoner has returned to his family and the missing have been accounted for."
It's evident that Mr. Obama's "will not rest" pledge about jobs dates back to at least the presidency of Gerald Ford, who said on April 30, 1976:
"I will not rest until every American who wants a job can find a job and we have put all of America back to work."
It was the Iran hostage crisis that drew a "will not rest" declaration from President Jimmy Carter in a speech to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia in May 1980.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
"We will not rest until our fellow Americans held captive in Iran – against every tenet of law and decency – are safe and home free."
During his campaign for reelection, the "will not rest" clause showed up with increasing frequency in Mr. Carter's political speeches. He said he "will not rest:"
• "...until the working men and women in the auto industry are back on the job will full-time, steady work."
• "...until every Soviet Jew is free to emigrate."
• "...until our automobile industry is completely competitive..."
The phrase also appeared liberally in conservative President Ronald Reagan's speeches on education, MIAs, jobs, freedom and justice.
• "America's education system...once the finest in the world - and we will not rest until it is so again."
•"We must not and will not rest until everyone who wants a job has found one..."
• "We will not rest until justice is done." (Spoken by Reagan on June 30, 1985, in response to a hijacking of a TWA airliner.)
Perhaps the most unusual and alliterative use of the phrase came in a speech that President George H. W. Bush delivered in 1990 to a gathering of federal prosecutors:
"We will not rest until the cheats and the chiselers and the charlatans spend a large chunk of their lives behind the bars of a federal prison."
If, in fact, our presidents really do not rest over all these issues, it may help explain why they grow old and tired-looking so quickly during their terms in office.
Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.