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Evolution of Obama’s favourite phrase

world Updated: Jan 20, 2010 01:29 IST

Whether President Barack Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address focuses on jobs, health care or foreign policy, there is one thing we can count on: Obama will make himself absolutely clear.

All politicians have their verbal tics but few resort to theirs as often as Obama relies on “let me be clear”. He deploys it in formal speeches as well as in impromptu remarks, meaning his speechmakers have keyed in on the boss’s security blanket.

“Let me be clear,” Obama said when he introduced himself to the US at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

“We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued. And they must be defeated.” And when he got word of his Nobel Peace Prize in October: “Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments.”

Most usually dismiss it as a standard time-buying device, like Bill Clinton’s “make no mistake” or Richard Nixon’s similar “let me make one thing perfectly clear.” But Obama’s calls for clarity are far more than a little presidential throat-clearing.

When Obama is being “clear” these days, he is saying something quite different than when he was being clear in 2007 and 2008. His shifting use of the phrase traces the arc of Obama’s time on the national stage, from campaign sensation to a president beset with challenges. In a presidency in which everything is murkier than Obama could have imagined, the “let me be clear” preface has become a signal that what follows will be anything but.

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