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Bush Delivers State of the Union, Rings the Bell of Freedom

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“It is both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom’s fight,” President Bush said last night in the State of the Union address.

Many expected economic policy to figure prominently in the president’s annual report to a joint session of Congress and the nation. While Bush did acknowledge the struggling economy, the speech weighted more heavily toward ideology—freedom in particular.

Analysis of the president’s—and chief speechwriter Mike Gerson’s—language tells the story.

Bush used the word “economy” only four times, and the phrase “economic security” three times.

By contrast, Bush spoke of “freedom” 14 times last night.

The word pulsated throughout his closing remarks: “Steadfast in our purpose, we now press on. We have known freedom’s price. We have shown freedom’s power. And in this great conflict, my fellow Americans, we will see freedom’s victory.”

“Freedom is at risk,” Bush said at one point. “We will demonstrate that the forces of terror cannot stop the momentum of freedom,” he said at another. “We choose freedom and the dignity of every life,” he said at yet another.

And he spoke several times about the new USA Freedom Corps, a volunteer organization focused on “responding in case of crisis at home, rebuilding our communities, and extending American compassion throughout the world.”

Bush last addressed a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, nine days after the terrorist attacks on Washington, D.C. and New York. That speech  included demands on Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, praise for the American people and direction for the new war on terrorism.

Bush used the word “freedom” 14 times in that speech. It also contained numerous keywords from the religious lexicon, some of which were missing from last night’s address.

The Sept. 20 and Jan. 29 speeches differed in purpose and circumstance. Nevertheless, a comparison of keywords is interesting.

On Sept. 20, Bush referred to “God” three times and “Allah” twice. He also used some form of “pray” six times.

Last night, Bush referred to God twice.

“We’ve come to know truths that we will never question: Evil is real, and it must be opposed,” he said. “Many have discovered again that even in tragedy, especially in tragedy, God is near.”

Bush did not refer to Allah, nor did he mention the word prayer.
On Sept. 20, Bush used some form of “Islam” six times and “Muslim” five times. Last night, “Islam” was spoken five times, and “Muslim” not at all.
Bush referred to “evil” five times last night, but only twice on Sept. 20.

“Our enemies believed America was weak and materialistic, that we would splinter in fear and selfishness,” he said last night. “They were as wrong as they are evil.”

Last night’s State of the Union address was the first to be webcast, appearing on the White House website. Calvin Coolidge’s address in 1923 was the first to be broadcast on radio, and Harry Truman’s speech in 1947 was the first on television.

The basis for a president’s annual address is found in Article II, Sec. 3 of the U.S. Constitution: “The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.

Read the transcript of Bush’s speech at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html