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BingoCGD’s seventh annual State of the Union bingo party last night, which had a nice shout out from the Washington Post’s Reliable Source and video coverage from Amy Cross at Medill News Service, had a record 230 unabashedly wonkish guests in attendance at the Exchange to watch the speech, ink dabbers in hand, eager to cross off key development terms on their CGD bingo cards. The speech focused heavily on domestic economic and political challenges. So it was an anxious wait until 9:58 p.m., nearly an hour into the speech, when the word “democracy” finally gave us a round of bingo winners, with Oxfam’s Paul O’Brien the first to claim victory.

The main rhetoric on global development (and the highest density of CGD bingo words bolded below) in Obama’s speech came in the following passages:

That is the leadership that we are providing – engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease – a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad.

As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.

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Despite these references, many of our guests left disappointed that there was not more on global development in the speech (which meant many of them didn’t get to yell out “bingo”  or go home with a coveted CGD mug, t-shirt, or book The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President). My colleague Todd Moss, vice president for corporate affairs and a senior fellow at CGD, was one of several expert commentators tracking the speech for the PBS NewsHour. Here’s what he had to say:

Where is global development?

In an address targeted squarely at domestic political audiences, it may not be surprising that foreign policy and America’s role in promoting economic growth in the developing world barely featured. It is nonetheless disappointing. America’s economic health is intimately linked to robust markets abroad, including not only East Asia and Latin America but, increasingly, Africa and the Middle East. The transnational threats of terrorism, disease, and crime are also connected to poverty and the lack of opportunity in far corners of the globe. The recent horrors of the Haitian earthquake and the outpouring of goodwill is also a reminder of the moral imperative of humanitarian assistance. But the SOTU mentioned only in passing U.S. efforts at food security, continuing to fund HIV/AIDS programs, and rescue efforts in Haiti. There was no defense of the foreign aid budget, zero new initiatives to promote trade and investment, and nothing new at all on bringing American innovation to promote global prosperity.

The near total lack of global development in the President’s first SOTU is especially disappointing since the Obama campaign and the administration have been promising to elevate these issues within U.S. foreign policy for all the reasons cited above. But so far we have yet to see this become reality. Two reports on U.S. development strategy (one by the State Department and one by the White House staff) are due soon. Yet hopes for a vigorous new direction—such as strengthening development alongside defense and diplomacy—are fading fast. The glaring omission in the SOTU will likely accelerate the already reduced expectations.

By comparison, President Bush often used some of his State of the Union addresses to announce major development initiatives, like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which meant we had a lot more “bingos!” then than we did last night. Obama said his team is launching a new initiative related to bio-terrorism and infectious disease, but few details were included.

Bingo PlayersThere were other areas where President Obama touched on policies like trade and migration that can have a big impact on global development but the speech could have gone a step further to make the connection between America’s economic health and prosperity in the rest of the world. For example, Obama said “we need to export more of our goods, because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America.” He vowed to double exports over the next five years. He could have also explained that 41 percent of our exports go to emerging market and developing countries, so helping poor countries develop and get richer is in our own economic best interest.

I think it’s safe to say that our bingo guests had a lively evening and enjoyed the festivities but left hungry for more on the development side. Here’s hoping the major U.S. development policy reviews under way yield some bold new ideas, that might just get some attention next time around and give us more winners at the eighth annual CGD State of the Union bingo.

Special thanks again to the Exchange for hosting our crowd this year. And I’m told the Off the Record bar at the Hay Adams also had a stack of CGD bingo cards where they not only played, but the bartender gave free drinks to bingo winners. (Um, was that supposed to be “off the record”? If so, sorry and thanks!) And reports are still rolling in of CGD bingo parties being played in Kirkuk, London, and beyond.

Until next year…

 

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.