Obama’s legacy: What phrase will stick in history’s mind? (contest!)

by Al Kamen


Richard Nixon’s catchphrase: “I am not a crook.” (STF/AFP)

FDR had “the only thing we have to fear,” while Truman had “the buck stops” and Eisenhower had the “military-industrial complex.”

Kennedy, on day one, had “ask not what your country,” while Johnson had “I shall not seek, nor I will not accept, the nomination... ”

Nixon had “I am not a crook” and Ford had “Our long national nightmare is over” while Reagan had “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.”

President Bush I had “This will not stand,” after Saddam invaded Kuwait and Bill Clinton had “the meaning of is, is” or “ I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and “the era of big government is over.”

President Bush II had the bull horn speech at the rubble of the World Trade Center, “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” as well as “heckuva job, Brownie.”

“The reason these phrases are important is that an essential job of presidential leadership is to give meaning to a central thrust of the presidency,” says our pal David Gergen, a Harvard professor and CNN’s senior political analyst.

The phrases and things like “New Deal” and “New Frontier” gave meaning to what they were trying to do and what they wanted the country to do, Gergen said. One of the “great surprises” is that “despite his reputation as a splendid orator, there doesn’t seem to be much that he said in his first three years in office that comes close to ‘ask not’ or ‘fear itself,’ or ‘tear down this wall.’

Loop fans can help! Yes, it’s time for the first “What is — and what should be — Obama’s signature phrase?” contest.

Tell us what you think Obama has said as president — not during the campaign — or what he might say sometime during his presidency that history will remember as a symbol.


Male model/Fix blogger Aaron Blake shows off his Loop T. Get yours!

But hurry! Entries must be submitted by midnight Nov. 14. In case of duplicates, first in will win. (You may want to double check that there’s an active e-mail associated with your washingtonpost.com login. If we’re unable to successfully contact the winner within three days, the prize will go to a runner up.)

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This story has been updated.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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