President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, given January 28th, 2014, was powerful, inspirational, and forceful. He drove his message across and emphasized his determination to get things DONE. He explained that he would take action even if not everyone agreed with it. “This is going to be a breakthrough year,” or “Get it done,” were two vibes that were given off that night. Obama seemed to have many concrete plans about how to repair and grow certain aspects of the nation. He talked more about future plans than he had in previous State of the Union Addresses, especially his 2013 address. However, one thing he did not do a great job of is making the nation feel united. It is understandable considering that he is in his second, and last term, and has no reason to please non-Democrat citizens. But it is still interesting to note this aspect of the speech.
Although pronouns do not show the full picture, there is some value to them. Mark Liberman, a professor at Penn compiled some data about State of the Union Addresses’ speaker’s usage of pronouns. His charts show that this year’s address has one of the largest differences between first person pronouns (us, we, etc.) and second person pronouns (he, they, etc.) usage, with second person pronouns being used more frequently than first person pronouns. In fact, first person pronouns were used more frequently than second person pronouns in the mid-late 1860s, despite the fact that the nation was pitted against each other in the possibly the largest disagreement among United States civilians in American history.
The usage of first person pronouns can create more of a united vibe. By referring to citizens or opposing political parties as “they,” Obama creates a divided vibe. In the middle of Barack Obama’s speech pitted Democrats against Republican, stirring up member of the Congress with these several sentences, “Now, I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So, again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice — tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda.” Although there is a sense of truth to what Obama says, it does not bring the nation any closer to agreeing on issues.
Interestingly President Abraham Lincoln created a different feel in his speech. His first speech was after the Civil War began. However, he made sure that congress understood that this was just to be a small hiccup in American history, and that the Union would eventually be recombined. He described the Confederates as “disloyal citizens.” However, he still made sure that it was understand that these people were still citizens of the United States and made it clear that his goal was to unite the country again.
Obviously Lincoln did not always treat America as a whole, considering that he was President during the Civil War, but what is fascinating is that Lincoln attempted to portray America as a nation that soon would be a whole nation again. President Obama did a great job of conveying the message that he would get stuff done, but made it seem like it was going to be more of a “us versus them” approach then a “us with them” or simply “us” approach.