President Obama's Favorite Words: 'Let Me Be Clear'
From Health Care, Gay Rights to Foreign Affairs, the President Uses His Favorite Four-Word Phrase
By BEN FELLER
Oct. 13, 2009
For all his flourish, President Barack Obama sure falls back on a few familiar phrases.
Make no mistake. Change isn't easy. It won't happen overnight. There will be setbacks and false starts.
Those who routinely listen to the president have come to expect some of those expressions to pop up in almost every speech. (That includes you, cynics and naysayers, the ones Obama mentions all the time without identifying who is saying nay.)
Yet in the portfolio of presidential phrases, none is more pervasive than Obama's four-word favorite: Let me be clear.
It is his emphatic windup for, well, everything.
"Let me be clear," he said in describing his surprise at winning the Nobel Peace Prize. "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."
"Let me be clear," he said in one of his dozens of pitches for a health insurance overhaul. "If you like your doctor or health care provider, you can keep them."
Presidents talk so much in public that is not surprising to find rhetorical patterns. Although Obama is known for a flair with the written and spoken word, his hardest mission is often to make complicated matters relevant to the masses.
So clarity, it seems, is of the highest order.
Terrorists? "Now let me be clear: We are indeed at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates."
Student testing? "Let me be clear: Success should be judged by results, and data is a powerful tool to determine results."
Iran? "Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies."
Obama Makes His Message 'Clear'
Auto bailouts? "Let me be clear: The United States government has no interest in running GM."
The president takes the phrase everywhere.
In Moscow: "Let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia."
In Ghana: "Let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at perpetual war."
In Italy, bemoaning poor U.S. leadership on climate change: "Let me be clear: Those days are over."
In Trinidad, announcing new aid: "Let me be clear: This is not charity."
Obama has used the same phrase, or a variation of it, to make his point about the strategy in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, U.S.-China relations, bipartisanship, pet legislative projects and Turkey's bid to join the European Union.
He has relied on it to look ahead ("Let me be clear: We pay for this plan," Obama says of his college initiative) and to look back ("Let me be clear: Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed" he says of economic models he dislikes.)
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama's style, which he referred to as presidential throat "clearing," is purposeful.
"While some in Washington seek political advantage by hiding behind ambiguity," Earnest said, "the president regularly seeks to make it clear where he stands and what he intends to do."
Perhaps the nation should have seen this coming. Candidate Obama set the tone.
"Let me be clear: It's outrageous that we find ourselves in a position where taxpayers must bear the burden for the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street and Washington," Obama said in September 2008.
There must be something catchy to all this. The people around Obama are just as insistent.
Here's Vice President Joe Biden, assuring members of Georgia's Parliament that U.S. efforts to reset relations with Russia wouldn't come at their expense: "Let me be clear: They have not, they will not, and they cannot."
And senior adviser David Axelrod, on missed legislative deadlines on health care: "Let me be clear. We're less interested in hard deadlines than in moving the process forward."
Lest anyone get too serious about this, Obama has lightened the mood with the phrase, too. He made state lawmakers laugh when he said the massive taxpayer-financed stimulus plan wouldn't be spent on frivolous projects such as dog parks.
"Now, let me be clear," Obama said in March, before Bo the dog arrived. "I don't have anything against dog parks."
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report.