Not since the financially endowed Howard Hughes designed for the otherwise endowed Jane Russell the world’s first cantilevered, under-wired strapless bra — lifting her to prominence in his film, "The Outlaw" — has a "New Foundation" debuted with such global prominence.
On April 14, President Obama used the term "new foundation" eight times in what his staff billed as his major address on the financial crisis that has swept the world. "We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity," Obama declared as world markets hung on every word. And he did it without wires.
Once again, as yet another new president’s made-for-the-media-but-governmentally artificial 100th Day in office is rushing toward us, the best minds of the best White House brain-stormers are into their boss’s posterity, big-time. They are mindful that great presidential legacies can get a lift-off with just the right catch phrase. As in FDR’s "New Deal" and JFK’s "New Frontier." So this is the time when they begin to beta test their best bets.
No president has ever been as urgently required to come up with as many new solutions to so many great crises, foreign and domestic, in his first 100 Days than Barack Obama. And Obama has shown himself more than equal to his arduous task — sometimes far more equal to it than some top advisers whose accolades arrived in Washington ahead of them (Tim Geithner, call your office).
Obama had no choice but to try to forge creative solutions for the biggest crises he inherited: One drowning economy beset by bailouts that weren’t bailing, a financial failure that swept the world. Two wars (Iraq, Afghanistan). Two nuclear challenges (North Korea, Iran) — and the potential horror of one nuclear nation (Pakistan) someday falling into Taliban control. Perpetual peril in the Middle East. New peril from Mexico’s violent drug cartels. And America’s tarnished global image.
Obama also has chosen to push forward toward solutions for other problems that were also huge and important, but could have been but on hold. New solutions for the officially ignored crisis of global warming — new limits on factory emissions that will add new burdens to companies already beset by economic woes. New urgency for comprehensive reforms of education, health care and entitlements.
The White House knows there are risks that they will overload a Congress that usually seems unable to bear even its lesser burdens. But also there are risks of failing to act or further delaying.
So Obama has pushed toward new solutions on all things. Now. And with each new step came a label promoting its newness.
But Obama’s "new foundation" wasn’t really new. President Jimmy Carter proclaimed multiple "new foundations" in his 1979 State of the Union address. (The slogan, created by speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg, didn’t stick; Carter jettisoned it just days later.)
Two days after Obama’s economic speech, he announced an easing of the half-century-old ban on travel to Cuba. And in an op-ed for 15 hemisphere newspapers, he began beta-testing new labels of newness. "… The promise of a new day … we have begun to move in a new direction … a new beginning."
On April 17, at the Summit of the Americas, he declared: "the promise of a new prosperity … the new direction that we can pursue … The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba."
Then Obama made one of his most important (and controversial) steps to remove from America’s global image the tarnish that has been there since the world learned of the abusive methods used on terrorist suspects by CIA interrogators in the Bush years. He didn’t just announce a new policy. He spotlighted the old one, releasing Bush Justice Department memos approving policies including water boarding that simulated drowning and slamming a prisoner against a wall. He made them public against the advice of his CIA Director, Leon Panetta. Then Obama went to the CIA, faced those most affected and explained why.
"… We want to send a new message to the world," Obama declared.
In the Obama presidency, newness is the daily news.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)