In dueling speeches at global forums in New York, President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney campaigned their respective approaches to the Middle East, Iran, and foreign aid and others. For most American voters, the US economy and not foreign policy is their top concern as the November election approaches. So how did Romney and Obama still manage to talk about American jobs and taxes in their speeches today? Through a few choice words.
In the study of political rhetoric the term ideograph refers to a word that connotes a political concept but is actually quite unspecific—like the words liberty or rights. Romney, a wealthy former venture capitalist repeatedly used the word “enterprise” in his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. While he used the term to refer to economic development and innovation in projects for social good, he was also reminding listeners that he supports a limited government role in the economy. In ten of the 16 times he used the word, it was part of the phrase “free enterprise.”
In 2011, Romney famously said, “corporations are people” after being heckled by a protester. He meant that all the money corporations earn ultimately go to people.
Obama, a Democrat, who says he supports a US tax system and economy based on fairness, used the word “people” 37 times in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly. “People” is a seemingly innocuous word but Obama used it in phrases like “prosperity for all people” as well as governments serving “their people.”
Romney’s speech used the word “people” 15 times in phrases like “people build economies,” “jobs for people” and “free people pursuing happiness.”
With still more than a week to go before the two candidates confront each other in the first presidential debate expect both outright jabs at each other as well as less direct messaging to continue.