Examining The State of the Union Address Through an Artist's Eyes

Monday, January 27, 2014

US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on February 12, 2013 at the US Capitol in Washington. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty)

Artist, composer and performer R. Luke DuBois developed his signature style through data mining. When the Smithsonian commissioned him to create portraits of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, he used Google technology to create the interactive final product. For his piece "A More Perfect Union," he culled the most-used words from online dating profiles to create word maps for every city across the country.

DuBois's 2008 piece, "Hindsight is Always 20/20," uses a similar technique, applied to every president's State of the Union Address. DuBois isolates the most frequently mentioned words from State of the Union Addresses that span from George Washington, whose most used word was "gentlemen," to George W. Bush, who frequently used the word "terror." President Richard Nixon's most frequent word is perhaps the most ironic: "Truly."

"The way I designed the piece is all the words are unique—it's the 66 words that each president uses in their State of the Union more than any other president," says DuBois. "So George Washington's number one word is 'Gentelmen,' and George Bush is 'Terror.' That means those are the words they use the most, but they also use them more than anyone else."

As President Barack Obama prepares for his 2014 State of the Union Address, DuBois examines word patterns in State of the Union Addresses over time, and describes how a president's rhetoric reflects their era.

Listen to a mash-up of State of the Union Addresses and the favorite words of presidents below. What do you think President Obama should mention during his address? Weigh in here.


R. Luke DuBois

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [7]

JOAN CARTER from Valley Stream, NY

President Obama has nothing to be ashamed of concerning AHC. Presidents dating back to Teddy Roosevelt, Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton all have supported government health care in one form or another. President Obama is the only President that was able to push it through. The people who should be ashamed are those who have done everything in their power to keep it from happening.
All I can say is thank you President Obama. Many people will benefit from this program. In particular those that have pre-existing conditions.

Joan Carter

Jan. 28 2014 03:30 PM
Mack Brandon from Ridgewood, NJ

Nice job, Luke!

Jan. 27 2014 03:59 PM
Marc Pease from Vashon Island, Washington

I would like President Obama to continue to concentrate on broadband issues, after the Net Neutrality decision by the D.C. court, and the ongoing lobby by telecommunications companies to reduce public voices with limited capacities, connectivity and reduced financial support. These telecommunications companies, no matter where they are located utilize the " public rights-of-ways " to install, connect, deliver, and build their telecommunications infrastructure. Is it time to look at a "public information utility-like" infrastructure to provide increased online and live educational, re-training, and public services communications.

Jan. 27 2014 01:18 PM
Summer from Seattle, WA

The President should give SOME priority to the crumbling infrastructure of the USA. I had the privelege of chatting with an econ prof from New Zealand this weekend, who asked me what the heck was up with America's obsession with NOT investing in infrastructure. I could only shrug my shoulders and give a helpless look.

Jan. 27 2014 01:03 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Eye Charts for Hind Sight being 20-20...I love it!
How can I make my own eye chart about myself?... It might have fuzzy results.

Jan. 27 2014 12:32 PM
antonio from baySide

I'd like President Obama to bring back taxing the rich..."It's not class warfare! It's Math.."

Like social security would be solvent FOREVER if the cap on contributions would just raise beyond the 113k it's at today... Right now a person making 100k and former Mayor Bloomberg contribute the same amount!

Jan. 27 2014 10:03 AM
Sam Winston from Detroit, Michigan

what's it matter when people still complain about "obamacare" and Benghazi? simple minds can't handle the concept of goals, especially when the only approach the conservatives have to fixing our economy is cut cut cut. it makes you wonder if they're even intelligent enough to pen an actual bill.

Jan. 27 2014 09:17 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.