Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Moronic counter-memes from Obama supporters

President Obama's failed Olympic lobbing effort has definitely damaged his political capital. One way that you can tell is that the usual suspects are desperately trying to give Obama political cover. Here's a relatively pathetic defense from the Daily Dish: President Obama isn't a narcissist because, hey, Presidents Bush and Clinton were narcissists too. "Language Log" makes the case in a critique of George Will's latest column:
I took the transcript of Obama's first press conference (from 2/9/2009), and found that he used 'I' 163 times in 7,775 total words, for a rate of 2.10%. He also used 'me' 8 times and 'my' 35 times, for a total first-person singular pronoun count of 206 in 7,775 words, or a rate of 2.65%.

For comparison, I took George W. Bush's first two solo press conferences as president (from 2/22/2001 and 3/29/2001), and found that W used 'I' 239 times in 6,681 total words, for a rate of 3.58% — a rate 72% higher than Obama's rate. President Bush also used 'me' 26 times, 'my' 31 times, and 'myself' 4 times, for a total first-person singular pronoun count of 300 in 6,681 words, or a rate of 4.49% (59% higher than Obama).

For a third data point, I took William J. Clinton's first two solo press conferences as president (from 1/29/1993 and 3/23/1993), and found that he used 'I' 218 times, 'me' 34 times, 'my' 22 times, and 'myself' once, in 6,935 total words. That's a total of 275 first-person singular pronouns, and a rate of 3.14% for 'I' (51% higher than Obama), and 3.87% for first-person singular pronouns overall (50% higher than Obama).
Gee, could it be that presidents often use first-person singular pronouns in press conferences because that's when they tell people what they've been doing? The point of Obama's narcissism isn't that he talks about himself when he's talking about his job. Every world leader since the beginning of time has done that. As the deliberations of the IOC have made clear, the point of Obama's narcissism is that he can't stop talking about himself even when he especially needs to stop talking about himself.

Of course, "Language Log" knows that its argument is not particularly convincing, so it makes a secondary attack on Will's "metric":
There are two interesting questions here, it seems to me. The first one is why George F. Will is so struck by rates of first-person usage, on the part of Barack and Michelle Obama, that are significantly lower than has been typical of recent presidents and first ladies on similar occasions.
The obvious answer is that George F. Will is not obsessed with usage rates of first-person pronouns. When George F. Will writes something like this --
In the 41 sentences of her remarks, Michelle Obama used some form of the personal pronouns "I" or "me" 44 times. Her husband was, comparatively, a shrinking violet, using those pronouns only 26 times in 48 sentences. Still, 70 times in 89 sentences conveyed the message that somehow their fascinating selves were what made, or should have made, Chicago's case compelling.
-- he is engaging in a literary technique that is called rhetoric. The meaning of these statistics is to communicate to the reader that President Obama's narcissism is shockingly well-developed; so much so that you might find yourself counting first-person pronouns out of sheer disbelief.

Of course, "Language Log" knows this as well, so it is finally forced to admit defeat and go ad hominem:
Now that I think of it, there's another significant question here as well. How in the world did our culture award major-pundit status to someone whose writings are as empirically and spiritually empty as those of George F. Will?

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