26 July 2011

What does the debt limit fight look like?

If you ever thought you needed a Cliff's Notes version of the Cliff's Notes, Wordle is the tool for you.  It makes those attractive "word clouds" I've published here before.  You submit text, and it counts the number of times a particular word appears.  The more instances of the word, the larger it appears in the cloud.

I sometimes use it to analyze a conversation or compare viewpoints and then develop more questions.  Last night we saw an interesting example of this- President Obama and Speaker Boehner each "took their case to the American people" on the fight over raising the national debt limit. So I compared the "word clouds" of the speeches from President Obama and Speaker Boehner to see if we could learn anything about what they're really trying to say.

Here's what the President's speech looks like:

And here's what the Speaker's speech looks like:

As I read it, the President is presenting a book report and the Speaker is telling you who he thinks is to blame for the mess we're in.  Looking at the clouds, I also think the Speaker's remarks were "message tested" for his natural constituency while the President's really wasn't.

The Speaker keeps using words like "bipartisan" (whether you think he's bipartisan or not) and the words "spending" and "debt," but doesn't mention his preferred cuts (no mention of cutting Medicare or Social Security)  and above all positions the President as the problem.  He's clearly on the attack. Further, I think it was a very smart political move from the GOP to put the Speaker out there immediately after the speech - they didn't give the President even a minute to "own" the news cycle.

I think the President was just putting it out there, just explaining what's going on - "here are the approaches we're looking at right now."  He's doubled down on being the conciliatory centrist - it's a gamble because there's a fine line between "being the adult in the room" and coming off as just another aloof, arrogant intellectual.

We'll see who's right - it remains possible they'll meet somewhere in the middle, but I don't think these speeches brought us any closer to a compromise.

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