That becomes clearer when you look at Obama’s past speeches. First year-presidents don’t technically give a “state of the union” address,” but on February 24, 2009, Obama rose before Congress to give the functional equivalent. In it, he began telling the story that he hoped would guide his domestic policy. He said the financial crisis afflicting the nation was the symptom of a deeper malady, which had begun many years before. That malady was America’s failure to foster the kind of widely shared economic growth it had enjoyed in the decades after World War II. “Now is the time to act boldly and wisely,” he declared, “to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.
For a time, “new foundation” looked like Obama’s version of “New Deal” or “New Frontier”: the phrase that summed up his economic vision. Under its rubric in that 2009 speech, Obama proposed not only a stimulus to revive the economy, but big energy, education, and healthcare initiatives designed to lay “the foundation for our common prosperity” once the financial crisis subsided. Although he pledged to cut the deficit too, it was a distinctly lesser theme.