05/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Pre-Owned "New Foundation"

President Obama's speech outlining his long-term plans for economic recovery is called "A New Foundation," and that metaphor pops up multiple times:

We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity - a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.

I thought I'd heard "New Foundation" somewhere before, rattling around in the attic with every past attempt by a president to evoke the New Deal, the New Frontier, or both. Sure enough, some Google searching shows that Jimmy Carter used the same slogan as the framing device for his 1979 State of the Union address:

Tonight I want to examine in a broad sense the state of our American Union--how we are building a new foundation for a peaceful and a prosperous world...The challenge to us is to build a new and firmer foundation for the future--for a sound economy, for a more effective government, for more political trust, and for a stable peace--so that the America our children inherit will be even stronger and even better than it is today.

Of course, 30 years have passed. Carter is now an elder statesman. Obama's metaphors are better. But is the 1979-vintage Carter administration - an era of stagflation at home and humiliation at the hands of Iran abroad - really something Obama wants any association with? Or, to put it bluntly, don't his speechwriters routinely do a Google search on their slogan-of-the-week? (Alternatively, perhaps they were trying to evoke Asimov's "Foundation" books, in which wise seers build new institutions to succeed the eroding galactic empire, preventing the total collapse of civilization. But I doubt it.)