On NPR this morning, linguist John McWhorter compared the pro-business rhetoric in President Obama’s speech to the Chamber of Commerce with similar language from Calvin Coolidge.
McWhorter based his comparison on this comment from Obama:
In addition to making government more affordable, we’re also making it more effective and customer-friendly. We’re trying to run the government a little bit more like you run your businesses — with better technology and faster services. So in the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.
According to McWhorter, this sounds a bit like Coolidge’s famous suggestion that “the chief business of the American people is business.” But as McWhorter explained, Coolidge didn’t seem quite so intent on coddling business leaders:
What’s interesting about that statement is that he [Obama] is implying that the government will change its ways to suit the preference of business, as opposed to, for example, a rather similar speech in intent that Calvin Coolidge made in 1925. And this is the one where he made the famous quote, ‘The chief business of the American people is business.’ And what’s interesting is the complete difference in tone. In his speech, Obama used the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ 66 times. Coolidge in his speech used ‘we’ and ‘us’ just 28 times.
Asked whether he was suggesting that Obama was ”chummier” with business than Coolidge, McWhorter said yes.
So does this mean Obama was being chummier in his speech than Coolidge, one of the most famously pro-business presidents in U.S. history? “That is precisely what I’m saying,” McWhorter says. Presidents nowadays, he says, “cannot be as saliently pro-business as Coolidge was. Obama has to be more coded.”