In his analysis of Obama’s not-the-State-of-the-Union address this week, political language and framing expert Jeffrey Feldman (founder and blogger at Frameshop), articulated what we’ve known in our gut for a while: Obama is shifting the American discourse about government. In a good way. And in a big way.

What Feldman points out is that much of this shift can be summed up in a single word that Obama uses a lot—a word that you could say Obama has reclaimed: investment.

The way Obama has defined it (and he’s in the number one spot to set the agenda for the country), it’s no longer limited to the concept of personal or private “investment.”

Our personal investments are withering away. Private investment has failed us. Obama is renewing the American ideal of public investments as building blocks to prosperity—everybody’s prosperity. In other words, reinforcing the idea (not a new one but not one we’ve heard for a long time) that the investments we make together, as communities, build a stronger, healthier future.

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  • Here’s Feldman:

    While the mainstream media and right-wing pundits obsessed over the word ‘stimulus,’ President Obama steadily pushed—and passed—an historic piece of legislation with the word ‘investment’ in the title:  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

    In speech after speech leading up to the passage of the bill, TV talking heads wondered whether or not the bill would succeed in ‘stimulating’ the economy.  Meanwhile, as that conversation was happening on DC circuit talk shows, Obama talked directly to the American people about the importance of ‘investing’ in new energy, infrastructure, and education.  And the public heard him.

    In this renewed conception, Feldman points out, investment is the opposite of neglect. We’ve seen what years of neglect has wrought and it hasn’t been pretty. That’s why the public investment concept works so well. It’s music to neglected ears.

    Feldman again:

    Rather than talking about ‘big government’ vs. ‘small government’ or ‘tax cuts’ vs. ‘tax raises,’ we can finally talk about what matters to all of us:  investment or neglect.

    Are we going to continue to neglect the future of our country to the detriment of our health, peace of mind, the well-being of our children?  Or are we going to invest in the health and confidence of all in a more just and inclusive democracy?

    For millions of Americans, after just a few short weeks of Barack Obama as President, the question is easy to answer.

    The question can be posed not only in the context of national stimulus spending, but at any level of government where budgets are being drafted. Neglect or investment?