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Views from the Center


This is a joint post with Kaci Farrell

Last night’s State of the Union address, like the mid-term elections, was not about foreign policy. Development aid was MIA, but President Obama’s remarks about the environment, trade, security, investment, technology, and migration—the six other areas measured in CGD’s Commitment to Development Index—allowed a handful of diligent guests to finally spell B-I-N-G-O!

The eighth annual CGD State of the Union Bingo event drew more than 140 development policy wonks from Capitol Hill, U.S. and foreign governments, think tanks, and NGOs to the Commissary eatery and watering hole in Logan Circle to watch the president’s speech and listen attentively for the development policy words on our bingo cards. Reflecting the unconventional seating arrangements in the House Chamber, our own political odd couples proved they could play CGD bingo together and work together the next day. Stephan Thurman, our most enthusiastic State Department attendee, filed an official daily activity report on the event which said, in part:

To the amazement of most present, including a strong delegation from State’s Economic, Energy and Business bureau (EEB), the 8th annual Center for Global Development (CGD) State of the Union Bingo (SOTU) contest ended with only one of ten cards winning, and that came only late into the speech for a precious few and quiet winners…This was no fault of CGD’s staff wonkism choosers because, for example, “responsibility” came in place of “accountability,” “working together” came in place of “unity,” “energy” was there but not with the word “oil.” The event has its serious side, it should be noted—to draw the economic and policymaking professions’ attention to the apparent importance placed on economic development issues by the current administration. In that sense, the fun event achieved its objective, just not in the exact wonkism words chosen.

Unlike past State of the Union addresses, this year’s speech was remarkably short on foreign policy, let alone specific references to how and why the U.S. engages with developing countries. (President Bush said “Africa” a whopping seven times during his 2003 State of the Union address; “Africa” was completely absent from President Obama’s speech.) Although bingo spaces for “foreign assistance” remained unmarked last night, the president’s domestic focus mentioned the environment, trade, security, investment, technology, and migration—all rich country policies that influence development. (Obama repeatedly promoted “innovation” and American “exports;” he said “clean energy” ten times.) Of note, CGD’s book, The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President (one of our illustrious bingo prizes), and Nancy Birdsall’s opening chapter in particular, flag the importance of innovation and leading with U.S. strengths in technology and business to make the United States a leader on global development policy.

More worrying, perhaps, is that the inherent links between these domestic policies and the rest of the world might have been lost in the president’s political appeal to American exceptionalism. Here’s hoping that as these policies are flushed out—whether through pending trade agreements, migration policy reform, or reorganizing the federal government —we begin to hear a bit more from the Obama administration about how these policies affect developing countries and why that matters to the United States’ own national security and prosperity.

Special thanks again to Commissary for hosting our crowd this year. And I’m told that patrons at the Hay Adams’ Off the Record bar also partook in CGD State of the Union Bingo, but that may technically be off the record (BingoLeaks, anyone?). And reports are still rolling in of CGD bingo parties in Nebraska, California, London, Maputo, and beyond.


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