Obama: du candidat super star au président mal aimé


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La couverture de l’élection de Barack Obama a été sans commune mesure avec les élections présidentielles de 2000 et 2004. Jacques Portes explique pourquoi le président des Etats-Unis n’a pas réussi à transformer ce succès planétaire en atout au cours de son mandat. Extraits de “Obama, vers un deuxième mandat ?” (1/2).



The Final Narrative of Barack Obama

Austin, Texas.  October 9, 2012 —  The controversy swirling around Obama’s debate performance  completely misses the point.  For better or worse, this is it. Stripped of all pretension. Devoid of the catch phrases and the swoons. Minus the Hollywood glam. This is he. Barack Obama. The man, unadorned.  No longer do we see Obama through a glass dimly. Now we see him for who he is. This is neither to embellish nor dis-embellish the man. This is to see things for what they are and not what they ought — or ought not — to be.

At the Global Language Monitor we understand that life is not an exit poll; we cannot shape the reality of how we just voted. It is a zero-sum thing, a binary action, a one or a zero, a yes or a no. In the same manner we have tracked the narrative of Barack Obama the preceding five years, stripped of all adornment, searching for the reality that was all too frequently, standing right before us, actually in our midst, if only we had the will to open our eyes to see.

Of course we have unabashedly published our findings along the way but at that time our findings seemed a bit out-of-step, as indeed they were. Out-of-step with the perceived reality, but in step with reality as it was. Unlike most of life, a new president is graced with a honeymoon period, when missteps are overlooked, forgotten, or forgiven.  This is not the ‘suspension of disbelief’  that allows us to enjoy a fantastical story in the cinema but rather a ‘suspension of self-interest,’ where we put aside our partisan differences and wait.  We wait for the cues and signals, both small and large, that will reveal the intentions, proclivities, and (dare I say it?) the character of the incumbent.

For some presidents this grace period is over nearly before it starts (Gerald Ford and George W. Bush come to mind).  For others, it lasts a bit longer (George H.W. Bush), and for others longer still (Ronald Reagan).    In the case of Barack Obama, the situation was markedly different.  Being a black man, most Americans wanted him to succeed precisely because he was a black man.  As a relative outsider, he was a welcome break from the recent past (and impending future) — Bush 41, Clinton 42, Bush 43, Clinton 44?

Being a newcomer, he was the classic tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which we could pour upon all our hopes and dreams.  And change?  Who on this planet did not want  change from the preceding eight years:  a divisive and disputed election, global terrorism and 9/11, two wars in the Middle East, a devastating tsunami, the inundation of one of America’s great cities, and to top it off, the global financial meltdown. All this being so, Barack Obama began his presidency with an extraordinarily large reservoir of good will.  Let’s call this reservoir the Hope and Change Quotient (HCQ).

During Obama’s first days in office, the nation was engulfed in ’anger and rage’? GLM analyzed the situation back in February 2009 and found that what was being reported as ‘anger’ was actually ‘frustration,’ while what was being reported as ‘rage’ was actually ‘despair’, a sense of foreboding or impending doom. GLM followed this rather odd undercurrent during the earliest, most hopeful, days of the Obama administration. The results were striking, especially, in contrast to the immense outpouring of global goodwill in response to the inauguration of Barack Obama, since the survey included the ten days immediately following Obama’s swearing in.  Some of the keywords showing heightened awareness were Abandoned, Despair, Desperation, and Fear — all appearing in the media with double digit increases over the pre-election period.   This was perhaps an abberation we thought, but as we moved forward, the pattern continued unabated.

We saw a turning point with the Gulf Oil Spill speech.  This was the opportunity to show the world how a US President would properly respond to a major crisis threatening the Gulf Coast, the ecosystem, and the forces of nature and the evil of Man (an arrogant CEO from Central casting, BP, Halliburton, and a 24×7 ‘Spill Cam’ spewing forth colorful filth, worthy of  a Dreamworks 3-D treatment.   And what did we get?  We got what we had been measuring for the preceding two years:  Obama 2.0, with an academic-sounding speech detailing a broad plan for an alternative-energy future and few specifics, and little of the hell-and-brimstone his followers had hope for.  

By now it was becoming apparent for all to see.   This was a changed and changing man, at least how he revealed himself publicly through speech.  By time the 2010 Mid-Terms delivered their ‘shellacking’ the transformation was nearly complete.   With a few noteworthy exceptions, such as his Tuscon eulogy,which ranked among his best, the President has appeared less-and-less engaged, more-and-more distant.

In July we noted that the top political buzzwords were telling a far different story than either campaign was presenting to the American people.  Our analysis found that Bush was clearly assigned responsibility for the so-called Great Recession, while Obama was responsibility for the economy’s current condition, just as concern over Bain Capital and the ‘war against women’ were of less and little concern respectively.  In other words, the American people saw the issues as if the virulent political ads of both parties did not exist.  In contrast ‘Still believe the American Dream’  was No. 5 and ‘Disappointment in Obama Administration’ was No. 6.

At the same time, the Hope and Change Quotient has nearly been depleted, this being the normal course near the end of every president’s first term in recent memory.   The President has finally been vetted.  We now know the man, his strengths, weaknesses, and his proclivities.  This is not to say that he will not win in his bid for re-election.  But this is to say, that for better or worse, this is it.

This is the final narrative of Barack Obama.

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GLM used NarrativeTracker Technology in this study. NarrativeTracker is based on the global discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what any audience is saying about any topic, at any point in time. NarrativeTracker analyzes the Internet, the top global print and electronic media, as well as new media sources as they emerge.

Paul JJ Payack is the president and Chief Word Analysts of Austin-based Global Language Monitor.

Top Political Buzzwords Paint a Different Picture than the Campaigns

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AUSTIN, Texas, July 12, 2012 —  The Top Political Buzzwords are telling a far different story than either campaign is presenting to the American people, One hundred and twenty-days before the presidential election, the Global Language Monitor has found profound differences between the actual concerns of the public and the political narratives of both parties.  The Top Political Buzzwords 120 Days Before the Vote, was released earlier today.   GLM has tracked political buzzwords associated with the national political scene since 2003 in the process compiling perhaps the largest statistical database of the kind.
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The “War Against Women” is next to last at No. 52 even though it figures quite heavily in the Democratic narrative.  It ranks just below No. 51 Outsourcing, which is key to the narratives of  both parties.  Other political buzzwords on the top of mind in the campaigns but in the bottom ten in the survey include:  the Bush Tax Cuts, Progressive Politics, the Decline in US Manufacturing, Political Stalemate (in Congress), Angry White Males, and the Obstructionist Congress.

The electorate definitely has a sense that the American Dream Still Alive (No.5.) though it is clearly Disappointed in the Obama Administration (No. 6).

The public is quite mindful of the negative tenor of the debate, reflected in the rankings of Toxic Politics (No.2), Haters and those who label their opponents as -phobic (such as Christophobic), (No. 15), and the Politics of Fear (No. 23). Perhaps this helps account for the fact that enthusiasm for the campaign is tempered by non-enthusiasm (Nos. 17 and 18).

The Top Social Issue in the survey was Pregnancy Reduction and Sex-selective Abortion at No. 25, the debate on which crosses the Progressive/Conservative chasm, though neither seems much discussed on the campaign trail.
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Both parties would do well to note that Romney’s Wealth is dead last; the electorate no-doubt inured to the fact that US presidential candidates are frequently wealthy (for example, the Bushes and John Kerry each had fortunes equal to or larger than that of Mitt Romney). Though Mr. Romney should note that Mormonism in Politics is No. 11.
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“The narratives of both political parties are becoming further and further removed from the actual concerns of the American voters,” said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of GLM, “This is happening because they focus on smaller and smaller segments of voting population, writing off states, demographic segments, and entire geographic regions in the process.”
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Highlights from the analysis include:
  • The top priority is the Current US Economy (1)
  • Responsibility for the Current US Economy is assigned to Obama (1)
  • Responsibility for Great Recession is assigned to Bush (7)
  • The name Obamacare is favored over the Affordable Healthcare Act by a 25:1 margin (3, 42)
  • The hot button top Illegal Aliens is relegated to the No. 21 position
  • The Affordable Healthcare Act [is recognized] as a Middle-class tax (25)
  • Bain Capital is pushed into the background at No. 27
  • The recent Supreme Court Affordable Healthcare Act ruling and Chief Justice John Roberts appears at a modest No. 32 just below Hydraulic Fracturing (31).
  • The issues of the The 1% registers at No. 36, Super Pacs at No.37, and Teachers Unions at No.38.

The Top Political Buzzwords follow:

  1. Current US Economy (with Obama Ownership)
  2. Toxic Politics
  3. ObamaCare
  4. Out-of-control Spending
  5. The American Dream Still alive
  6. Disappointment in Obama Administration
  7. Bush Responsible for Great Recession
  8. The Iraq War
  9. Stimulus Package
  10. Wall Street Bailout
  11. Mormonism in Politics
  12. Rise of China
  13. US Debt Crisis
  14. Middle Class Whites
  15. Identifying opponents as Haters (or -phobic)
  16. Transparency in Government
  17. Excited about Presidential Election
  18. Not Excited about Presidential Election
  19. The Euro Crisis affecting US
  20. Hilary Clinton
  21. Illegal Aliens
  22. Climate Change
  23. Politics of Fear
  24. Afghanistan War
  25. Middle-class tax (Affordable Care Act)
  26. Wall Street Occupy Movement
  27. Bain Capital
  28. Pregnancy Reduction and sex selective abortion
  29. Drone Strikes
  30. Birther
  31. Hydraulic Fracturing
  32. John Roberts Healthcare
  33. George Bush Responsible for US Economy
  34. Keystone Pipeline
  35. Obama responsible for Great Recession
  36. Deficit Spending
  37. The 1%
  38. Super Pacs
  39. Teachers Unions
  40. Global Terrorism
  41. Nuclear Iran
  42. Affordabe Healthcare Act
  43. Long-term Unemployment
  44. Bush Tax Cuts Affecting Middle Class
  45. Progressive politics
  46. Decline US Manufacturing
  47. Political Stalement
  48. Angry White Males
  49. Obstructionist Congress
  50. Obamamania
  51. Outsourcing
  52. War Against Women
  53. Romney Wealth

Political buzzwords are terms or phrases that become loaded with emotional freight beyond the normal meaning of the word.  For example, the word surge has been in the English-language vocabulary since time immemorial.  However, in its context as an Iraq War strategy, it inspired a set of emotions in many people far beyond the norm.

The PQI tracks the frequency of words and phrases in global print and electronic media on the Internet, throughout the Blogosphere, Twitter and other social media outlets, as well as accessing proprietary databases. The PQI is a weighted index that factors in long-term trends, short-term changes, momentum, and velocity.  Because PQI is based on the national discourse, it provides a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic, at any point in time.

All Things Sarah …

NY Times attributes ‘How’s that Working Out for You? to Sarah Palin?

According to Tom Kuntz in the New York Times’ Week in Review (June 18, 2011):

Refudiate this: Sarah Palin’s undeniable impact on the English language. Exhibit A, of course, is the idiom she lent wildfire currency to only last year, by asking at a Tea Party convention on Feb. 6, “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for ya?” Witness the meme’s broad cultural reach ever since and — perhaps unfortunate in some cases — its seemingly limitless versatility.

“How’s that working out for ya?” — Herman Cain in the first Republican presidential debate on May 5, belittling rule by Washington politicians.


“Someone really should borrow Sarah Palin’s question and ask [Prime Minister] David Cameron: ‘How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?’ ” — The Observer, London, March 27

“Hey, seniors, how’s that no-tax thing been working out for ya?” — Letter to the editor, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 10 …

[and it goes on to cite another half dozen instances]

The Global Language Monitor has traced back the meme at least to the 1999 film Fight Club; the phrase, no doubt, can be traced much earlier.



Proof of Literary Greatness?

GLM Comment :  We think not.  But perhaps an unexpected ability to fashion an English Sentence.

One week ago today, the MoJo DC bureau was consumed by the arrival of Sarah Palin’s emails covering the first half of her half-term as Alaska’s governor. As David Corn detailed, there were plenty of interesting discoveries—a less than chilly attitude toward climate change, for instance, and a sometimes obsessive attitude toward media critics (marginal and otherwise).

While we were poring over the documents, though, Michael McLaughlin of AOL’s Weird News was taking a different approach:

AOL Weird News brought samples to two writing analysts who independently evaluated 24,000 pages of the former governor’s emails. They came back in agreement that Palin composed her messages at an [8.5] level, an excellent score for a chief executive, they said…

“She’s very concise. She gives clear orders. Her sentences and punctuations are logical,” Payack said. “She has much more of a disciplined mind than she’s given credit for.”

Although it’s like comparing apples to oranges, Payack said that famous speeches like Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was a 9.1 and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” oration rated a 8.8 on the scale.

Having read several thousand pages of the Palin emails, I think apples and oranges might be a bit of an understatement here. But there’s also a bit of truth there: Palin’s written communications are noticeably more coherent than her efforts to explain herself verbally (witness: Paul Revere-gate).



John McWhorter on Palin’s ‘remarkedly lucid prose’

 

Palin’s Emails: What Her Remarkably Lucid Prose Says About the Art of Teaching Writi

  • John McWhorter
  • June 16, 2011 | 12:00 am

Sarah Palin’s emails are telling us something about remedial writing classes at our universities and colleges, and it’s not what you think. Call her defensive or parochial based on the cache of her spontaneous writings while serving as governor of Alaska, but

something easy to miss is that Palin, in contrast to her meandering, involuted speaking style, is a thoroughly competent writer—more so than a great many people most of us likely know, including college graduates.

Indeed, her facility in writing proves something one might be pardoned for supposing she was exaggerating about in Going Rogue, her autobiography, in which she limns a childhood portrait of herself as a bibliophilic sort of tot:

Reading was a special bond between my mother and me. Mom read aloud to me – poetry by Ogden Nash and the Alaska poet Robert Service, along with snippets of prose …. My siblings were better athletes, cuter and more sociable than I, and the only thing they had to envy about me was the special passion for reading that I shared with our mother.

That’s right, Sarah “you betcha” Palin was, of all things, a bookworm, excited to learn to spell “different” and winning a poetry contest for a poem about Betsy Ross. And as such, it is predictable that her emails would evidence such casually solid command of the language—even if her oral rendition of it is a different matter entirely.

Once we understand that, it leads to some serious questions, as posed by books getting buzz at present such as Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift and In the Basement of the Ivory Tower by the anonymous “Professor X.” How sensible is our assigning millions of freshmen each year to classes intended to teach them a skill so deeply rooted in unconscious facilitation at an early age?

To get a sense, it helps to see a few of these emails. Because email is written speech, it’s easy to miss artfulness in them. Yet, take this Palin passage: “Even CP has admitted locking up tax rates as Glenn suggests is unacceptable to the legislature, the Alaskan public, this administration, and the Constitution.”

The spelling is flawless—and unlikely to be completely a product of spell-check, which misses errors and often creates others. More to the point, she has an embedded clause (“locking up tax rates”) nested into a main one, with another clause “as Glenn suggests” nested within the embedded one. That’s good old-fashioned grammar school “syntax.” I have known plenty of people with B.A.s who could barely pull it off properly at gunpoint, and several others who would only bother to at gunpoint.

Equally graceful despite its mundane content: “Cowdery telling a kid what’s acceptable and what isn’t inside these four walls??? Puleeeze. A three-pound puppy vs. all the CBC crap that he helped dump around here?” You hear an actual human voice here. We tell some people “I can hear your voice in the way you write”—because it’s unusual for people to be able to “write” themselves. Palin is one of the people who can. [Read More.]

Palinpalooza: GLM analysis for Huffington Post

Sarah Palin’s Emails Written At 8th Grade Level — Better Than Some CEOs

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The huge cache of Sarah Palin’s emails released Friday offered not only a chance to see what she was writing about during her uncompleted term as Alaska’s governor, but also an opportunity to see how well she writes.

AOL Weird News brought samples to two writing analysts who independently evaluated 24,000 pages of the former governor’s emails. They came back in agreement that Palin composed her messages at an eighth-grade level, an excellent score for a chief executive, they said.

“I’m a centrist Democrat, and would have loved to support my hunch that Ms. Palin is illiterate,” said2tor Chief Executive Officer John Katzman.

“However, the emails say something else. Ms. Palin writes emails on her Blackberry at a grade level of 8.5.

“If she were a student and showing me her work, I’d say ‘It’s fine, clear writing,’” he said, admitting that emails he wrote scored lower than Palin’s on the widely used Flesch-Kincaid readability test.

“She came in as a solid communicator,” said Paul J.J. Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor. The emails registered as an 8.2 on his version of the test. “That’s typical for a corporate executive.”

An example of Palin’s strongest writing came on Jul. 17, 2007 in an email to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell about the controversial Gravina Island Bridge, infamously called the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

“We cant afford it, the Feds won’t pay for it, the general populace isn’t placing it as a high priority … can you diplomatically express that?! Of course we want infrastructure — and this is NOT a “bridge to nowhere” (that is so offensive), but as it stands today with the highest-cost bridge design selected by the Ketchikan community, we need to find a lower-cost alternative [if] a bridge will be built.”

“She’s very concise. She gives clear orders. Her sentences and punctuations are logical,” Payack said. “She has much more of a disciplined mind than she’s given credit for.” [Read More.]




Top Political Buzzwords and the Mid-term Vote

November 7, 2010

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The list of all the political buzzwords measured before the day before the Mid-term Elections in their final ranking .

1.  Lower Taxes

2.  Tea Party

3.  Recession (linked to Obama)

4.  Narrative

5.  Obama Frustration

6.  Sarah Palin

7.  Harry Reid

8.  Barack Obama

9.  Out-of-control Spending

10.  Middle-class taxes

11.   Obama Anger and Rage

12.  Climate Change

13.  Obama Aloof, detached, Prof

14.  Christine O’Donnell

15.   Iraq War

16.   Al qaeda

17.  Obama “oil spill” response

18.  Hillary Clinton Obama

19.  Raise Taxes

20.  Conservative Voter

21.  George Bush

22. Transparency politics

23.  Obama Muslim

24.  Financial meltdown

25.  Nancy Pelosi

26.  Liberal Voter

27.  Subprime

28.  Public Option in HealthCare

29.  Independent Voter

30.  Obama as a compromiser

31.  Recession (linked to Bush)

32.  Stimulus Package

33.  Obama Katrina

34.  Progressive Voter

35.  Surge

36.  Bush Katrina Response

37.  Rush Limbaugh

38.  Deficit Spending

39.  Shovel Ready

40.  BP Gulf Oil spill

41.  Healthcare Mandate

42.  Global Financial/economic Restructuring

43.  Dick Cheney

44.  Wall Street Bailout

45.  Outrage (Linked with Obama)

46.  Socialism (linked with Obama)

47.  Grand Zero Mosque

48.  Town Hall Meetings

49.  Healthcare reform

50.  AIG (Post-bailout Bonuses)

51.  Elena Kagan

52.  Afghanistan

53.  Great Recession

54.  Sotomayor

55.  Michelle Obama Vacation

56.  Anti-incumbent Vote

57.  Politics of fear

58.  Obama Chicago Pol

59.  Iran election/nuclear weapons

60.  Single Payer

61.  Worst Recession

62.  Birther

63.  Change you can believe in

64.  Economic Depression 2010

65.  Politics of change Obama

66.  Death Panel

67 .  Obamamania

68.  Refudiate

69.  Beer Summit (Gates & Cambridge Police)

70.  Wise Latina

71.  Wee weeing

72.  MObama (the Fashion Icon)

Election Day Forecast

56-53% Republicans; 44-47% Democrats, 1% Other

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The Inverse of the 2008 Results

AUSTIN, Texas.  Nov. 2, 2010  According to its NarrativeTracker Index, the Global Language Monitor has forecast the results of the

Mid-term Elections based on the number of citations received, relating to Liberal/Progressive, Conservative  and Independent labels.  Election Forecasting by Narrative Tracking has never before been attempted by any party.

Liberal and Progressives were measured together and separately.  Based on the analysis concluded on November 1st , the results are projected to largely inversely mirror the results of 2008, where Obama won some 53% of the vote to McCain’s 46% with 1% other.

With the Independents splitting 6/4 in favor of the Republicans, the 2010 results would range from 56-53% Republicans; with  44% to 47% for the Democrats, with 1% other.

The previous analysis was made in September with six weeks remaining before the elections.  There was no game-altering ‘October Surprise;’  positions around the various issues only solidified.

The NarrativeTracker Index  is based on the national discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic related to healthcare, at any point in time. NarrativeTracker analyzes the Internet, blogosphere, the print and electronic media, as well as new social media sources (such as Twitter).  Including social media in the mix of Internet and electronic and print media sources provides a very clear (and accurate) snapshot of what the people are actually thinking.

The predictive element only adds to NarrativeTracker’s power.  In addition to the NTI, the NarrativeTracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the narratives being tracked.

About the Global Language Monitor:   Austin, Texas-based Global Language Monitor analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices, and their impact on the various aspects of culture, with a particular emphasis upon Global English. Since 2003, GLM has launched a number of innovative products and services monitoring the Internet, the Blogosphere, Social Media as well as the Top 25,000 print and electronic media sites,

For more information, call 1.512.815.8836, email editor@GlobalLanguageMonitor.com, or visit www.LanguageMonitor.com.

Obama’s final narrative: A negative mélange of historic proportions

Read it Where Lawmakers go to Express Their Opinions


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AUSTIN, Texas, November 1, 2010.  The final narrative for President Obama, twenty-four hours before the Mid-term Elections has evolved into a negative mélange of historic proportions.  This was reported by the Global Language Monitor (GLM), which has been tracking the narratives that have dominated the perception of the administration and its handling of both its achievements and crises.

In July, the President’s five most prominent narrative arcs included being out-of-touch or aloof; being responsible for the ever-increasing deficit; not responding with enough vigor or authority to the Gulf Oil Spill; the victory of pushing through Healthcare Reform; and gaining a reputation as a Chicago-style pol.  The President’s Oval Office Address on the Gulf Oil Spill seems to have been the temporal demarcation point between a positive or negative narrative carrying over into the 2010 Mid-term Election.  Since that time there are many who contend that Obama’s narrative has been shaped by forces largely out of his control. And indeed, this may be true.

In the following months no single narrative has risen above the others; on the contrary the five Obama Narratives have largely blended into a largely negative, yet muddled, story line.  The result has been an admixture of these five narratives, resulting in an unfortunate amalgam for the president and his party to overcome.

GLM has also been tracking political buzzwords for the last three election cycles. An analysis of the Top Buzzwords of the Mid-Term Elections completed yesterday, and published in a separate release, lend support to these conclusions.

Below is a list of the Obama narratives that have evolved through the last year.

1.     Obama as out-of-touch or aloof

This has only grown stronger over time.  Professorial has now been added to the mix, which is often considered condescending by certain academic communities.

2.     Obama and the deficit

Words linking Obama to deficit have steadily increased as those linking Bush to the deficit have declined.

3.     Obama and the Oil Spill

The completion of the relief well apparently did not provide the president with relief from the issue.  In fact, the President now has more negative ties to the Katrina inundation of New Orleans than George W. Bush.

4.     Obama as HealthCare Reformer

The president’s signature achievement has been largely avoided by members of his party for fear of the overall negative reception to the program adversely affecting their personal chances of (re-)election.  The mistake is explain away the frustration with how the bill was passed, where many had a first-hand look at congressional (and presidential) wheeling dealing as it best (or worst).

5.     Obama as the Chicago-style pol

This usually conveys the ability to make things happen — though in a stealthy, force-your-hand manner reminiscent of the days of cigar-filled back rooms.  Even this has been undone by the ongoing public perception of Obama’s seeming inability to get things done (in spite of the things he actually did).

GLM has been tracking political language for the last three election cycles   As we have detailed over the last two years, while in the midst of the positive media frenzy of the election and inauguration, we were already finding the elements of anger and outrage as one of the highest on record.    At that time, GLM examined the global print and electronic media for the seven days after the following events:  the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the start of the Iraq War, and the week after the Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, and the awarding of the AIG bonuses.

The ranking of ‘outrage’ found in the media was surprising, even startling.

  1. The AIG Bonuses, 2009
  2. The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001
  3. Hurricane Katrina and the Inundation of New Orleans, 2005
  4. The start of the Iraq War, 2003

During the last several months our analysis shows that anger and rage largely have been replaced by frustration and disillusionment.In fact, our continuing NarrativeTracker analysis has found what appears to be a major disconnection between what is reported in the media and what is being discussed in Social Media and the rest of Cyberspace.  This includes a number of Media Memes that resonant among the media.

These Media Memes include:

1.     Outrage in the Electorate

To a large extent, the rise of Outrage in the electorate (accompanying the AIG bonuses) was overlooked while the focus was on the ebullience accompanying the Obama election and Inauguration.  Only this year have ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ become a focus — while the citations show that the electorate has moved beyond this Media Meme to ‘disappointment’ and ‘frustration’.

2.     The Great Recession

The electorate makes no distinction between Recession and Great Recession.  In fact, the Great Recession Media Meme is found to be used only in the elite media, while the electorate seems to believe that something far larger is taking (or has taken) place.  The analysis shows the underlying belief to be that that economy has undergone a structural change that will take years to mend, if ever. (They knew this when Bush tried to explain why the US, according to traditional definitions, was not yet in a recession, and again know this as today’s economists try to explain how the Great Recession is now over because we grew 2% in the last fiscal quarter).

3.     The Idea of Insurgency

The consensus is that there are now about one hundred, or fewer, congressional seats in play, which means that some 77% of the seats are basically locked in.  The idea of insurgency makes great headlines (and ensures a plethora of more great headlines as the future unfolds).  But the fact remains that a minimal number of congressional seats are now in play.

4.     The Tea Party

Tea Party ‘members’ have turned out to be older, better educated, and far more influential than their originally portrayal.  If the war in Afghanistan is fighting the last wars (the Surge in Iraq and the Vietnam ‘quagmire’ then viewing the Tea Party as anything other than a grass roots movement, was a mis-reading of the Obama ‘insurgency’ of ’07 and ’08.

5.      The 24-hour News Cycle

The 24-hour news cycle is true only insofar as the headlines constantly shift.  But the deeper currents are a much more prevailing force that apparently actually drive and shape events.  Focusing on the swirling froth of the ever-changing headlines, allows many to miss the structural changes that are occurring below – much like a tsunami is only apparently when the submerged wave finally hits the shoreline.GLM’s Top Political Buzzwords are based on the Narrative Tracker Index. Narrative Tracker is based on the national discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic, at any point in time. Narrative Tracker analyzes the Internet, blogosphere, the print and electronic media, as well as new social media sources (such as Twitter). In addition to the NTI, the NarrativeTracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the narratives being tracked.

The next report will discuss the list of the Top Political Buzzwords of the 2010 Mid-term elections.

To read what the Top Buzzwords Tell Us about the Vote, Part I (The Vetting of the President), go here.

To read about the Top Political Buzzwords of the 2010 Mid-term Elections, go here.

Media:  For more information, please call 1.512.815.8836.

About The Global Language Monitor

Austin-Texas-based Global Language Monitor analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices, and their impact on the various aspects of culture, with a particular emphasis upon Global English.

For more information, call 1.512.815.8836, email editor@LanguageMonitor.com, or visit www.LanguageMonitor.com

What Rage? Frustration and Disappointment Outdistance Anger and Rage by 275%

What Political Buzzwords Tell Us about the Vote, Part II

AUSTIN, Texas.  October 21, 2010 — Reports of ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ at the economy, incumbents or President Obama himself as the main theme of the 2010 Mid-term elections have been greatly overstated, possibly for political motivations. In an analysis of the Top

Political Buzzwords of the 2010 Mid-terms, Global Language Monitor (GLM), has determined that the words ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ and their various combinations come in a distant second to words associated with ‘disappointment’, ‘frustration’ or being ‘let down’ by the actions of the Administration.

Obama
Anger and Rage: 27%
Disappoint and Frustration: 73%

GLM has also found that the top three subjects linked to ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ outside the Administration are Healthcare Reform, the various actions termed Bailouts, and the initial Stimulus package, formally named the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Anger
Healthcare Reform: 52%
Stimulus Package: 33%
Bailout: 15%

Internet, Blogs and Social Media

GLM has found ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ to appear far less in the media on the internet, blogs and social media sites than one might expect from reading the headlines. In the last 30 days, the New York Times used the word ‘rage’ in political contexts some 70 times, a far greater percentage than what was found in the overall media, on the Internet, the Blogosphere and in Social Media.

Read the Where Congress Goes to Blog on the Hill.

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Anti-incumbent Rage

The phrase ‘incumbent rage’ is highlighted as a major trend of the Mid-term elections. Once again, the use of this phrase and variations is noteworthy only in their dearth of references.

World-wide news searches find that ‘anti-incumbent’ appears about 550 times in the global media in the last 30 days, of which some twenty percent of the references appear in the AP, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the Wall Street Journal, while ‘anti-incumbent rage’ appears twice. In comparison, the word incumbent appears some 19,000 times.

Global Media Percentage of Total
Incumbent: 96.97%
Anti-incumbent: 3.02%
Anti-incumbent Rage: 0.01%

When you add in the Internet, the Blogs and Social Media as well the top 5,000 global media, the total number of citations approach 20,000,000 and reflect a broader dialogue about the topic. However, ‘anti-incumbent rage’ still hovers below 1%.

Internet Percentage of Total
Incumbent: 99.16%
Anti-incumbent: 0.80%
Anti-incumbent Rage: 0.05%

Lack of Competitiveness in Congressional Races

Over the last several decades, the political cognoscenti have bemoaned the lack of competitiveness of congressional elections. Both parties, of course, have done all within their power to keep it that way, primarily through the gerrymandering of districts to their own benefit. The latest trend is to create ‘majority-minority’ districts that virtually ensure the election of a member of a specific demographic group.

In 2010, various news organizations estimate that there are between 35 and 80 competitive congressional districts, or districts ‘in-play’. This is, of course, is attributed to ‘voter’ and/or ‘anti-incumbent rage.’ Even so, this means that a majority of districts, ranging from 92% to 81% are still considered non-competitive. To our way of thinking, this is a very important development – and one that should be further encouraged.

Congressional Districts: 435
Competitive Maximum (80): 18.39%
Competitive Minimum (35): 8.05%

Positive vs. Negative Tea Party Citations

In a related finding, GLM found that overall the Tea Party is viewed more positively than negatively, by a small percentage of the overall number of citations.

Tea Party
Positive Associations: 54%
Negative associations: 46%

We will discuss this further in What the Top Political Buzzwords Tell Us about the Vote, Part III.

GLM’s Top Political Buzzwords are based on the Narrative Tracker Index. Narrative Tracker is based on the national discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic, at any point in time. Narrative Tracker analyzes the Internet, blogosphere, the print and electronic media, as well as new social media sources (such as Twitter). In addition to the NTI, the NarrativeTracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the narratives being tracked.

To read What Political Buzzwords Tell Us about the Vote, Part I (The Vetting of the President), go here.



To read about the Top Political Buzzwords of the 2010 Mid-term Elections, go here.

About The Global Language Monitor

Austin-Texas-based Global Language Monitor analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices, and their impact on the various aspects of culture, with a particular emphasis upon Global English.

For more information, call 1.512.815.8836, email editor@GlobalLanguageMonitor.com, or visit www.LanguageMonitor.com
Paul JJ Payack

The Vetting of the President

What the Top Political Buzzwords Tell Us About the Vote, Part I

AUSTIN, Texas,  October 4, 2010 — Recently, the Global Language Monitor (GLM) announced that the Top Buzzwords of the Mid-term Election.   GLM found that the buzzwords portrayed a strongly negative narrative that has increasingly entangled the president and his party.   The Top Ten Buzzwords included Narrative, Lower Taxes, Obama as a Muslim, Conservative, Climate Change, Liberal, Recession (linked to Obama), Hillary Clinton related to Obama, Tea Partiers, and Obama as Aloof, Detached, or Professorial.  In the interim GLM has found that Obama as a Smoker will break into the Top Ten when the list is updated two week hence.

This is the first of a number of reports that will analyze what the top political buzzwords seemingly tells us about the upcoming vote.

The first thing you notice about the Top Political Buzzwords of the Midterm Elections is that many concern President Obama as a person.  Two years into his presidency, this tells us something about the president’s relationship to the American people:   a good number of citizens are only now beginning to understand the president as a person.  And it is interesting to see that many news organizations, apart from the blogs and talk radio shows, are also following these citizens’ lead.  Only now is President Obama being ‘vetted’.

According to yourDictionary.com,  ’to vet’ is the process ‘to examine, investigate, or evaluate in a thorough or expert way’.    In the throes of Obama-mania, many were apparently willing to take a chance on the engaging, handsome, thoughtful newcomer, especially after many eventful and exhausting years under his predecessor.   We read the autobiographies, we joined the explosive rallies, and we watched as the entire world seemed to yearn for a ‘regime change’ in the US.   We were, after all, the people we had been waiting for.   But in the ‘rush to victory’ we never really got to know the president.  not in the same way we knew, say, Hillary.

We’ve known Hillary, her husband, her daughter, her history, her religion, her schooling, her scandals, alleged or otherwise, the rumors, for better or for ill — we know Hillary.

And we knew John McCain’s life since Vietnam, Albert Gore’s roommate at Harvard, GBW’s stint as a cheerleader at Andover, John Kerry testifying before congress in ’69,  Bush pere , and Bush pere’s pere, Ronald Reagan since Bedtime for Bonzo, and so on. All of the above have decades of public service and have (or had) been vetted every which way possible, and then some.

An exception, of course, was Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia (and nuclear engineer) — as he first introduced himself to the nation.  Carter was elected to office at least partly as an antidote to what had transpired before him (Watergate), and was thought to be part of a national cleansing, a fresh start, a break with a troubled past.  And, like Obama, was relatively new to the political scene, and lightly vetted, when elected to the presidency.

In Barack Obama’s case he is more than a self-made man; Obama is a self-defined man.   In this he is not unlike John F. Kennedy with the legend of PT-109 and his Pulitzer-prize best-seller, Profiles in Courage, which was, perhaps, ghost-written.  Though JFK was a relative newcomer to the national scene, the stories of Joe Kennedy as a ‘rum-runner’ during Prohibition and his maternal grandfather ‘Honey Fitz’ Fitzgerald, the storied Boston politician, were circulating for decades before JFK stood for the presidency.

As a self-defined man, much of the traditional vetting provided by the media was compressed into a number of months, and much of that was taken directly from his autobiographies, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. And so we are back to the self-defined man, to a large extent, vetting himself.

And so it is none too surprising that many of the buzzwords surrounding the Midterms are about Obama as a man, a person, a personality.

Comparing data from just before the 2008 general election, we see much the same patterns as today.  Citations about Obama’s religion, his supposed ‘aloofness,’ and even his smoking were much higher than what we had seen for other candidates (Bush, Kerry, Gore, etc.) in the previous two election cycles.

What we are seeing in the data appears to be a continuation of the process that ordinarily would have been ongoing  for a decade or more.  So the public vetting of the president continues on the Internet, in the Blogs, throughout Social Media, and in the print and electronic media, itself.

- Paul JJ Payack



Top Political Buzzwords: Negative Narrative Entangles President and His Party

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.Top Political Buzzwords Six Weeks Out

. Narrative Tracking-based Election Forecast:

..Opposite of 2008

..Hillary Clinton Ascendant as No. 8

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AUSTIN, Texas, September 24, 2010. The Global Language Monitor (GLM) today announced that the Top Buzzwords of the Mid-term Elections portray a strongly negative narrative that has increasingly entangled the president and his party with six weeks remaining before the Mid-term elections. The Top Ten Buzzwords include Narrative, Lower Taxes, Obama as a Muslim, Conservative, Climate Change, Liberal, Recession (linked to Obama), Hillary Clinton related to Obama, Tea Partiers, and Obama as Aloof, Detached, or Professorial.

These are a dramatic departure from the top buzzwords immediately preceding the 2008 Presidential election where the Top Buzzword was Change, blame for the recession was clearly assigned to George W. Bush, Raising Taxes was No. 27, and the Surge was still a Top Ten issue as was the price of gasoline. Obamamania was the No. 3 Word of 2008 (after Change and Bailout); Obamamania now stands at No. 63. One consistency: Nuclear Iran was No. 31; now Nuclear Iran is No. 33.

Austin-based Global Language Monitor has been analyzing political buzzwords since the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003.

“The Top Political Buzzwords reflect a strongly negative narrative that the president and his party have six weeks to overcome,” said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of GLM. “Typically an opinion swing of this magnitude can be directly attributable to outside events, not of one’s personal doing.”

Election Forecast:  In an additional analysis, the Global Language Monitor has forecast the results of the Mid-term Elections based on the number of citations received, relating to Liberal/Progressive, Conservative  and Independent labels.  Liberal and Progressives were measured together and separately.  Based on the analysis concluded earlier this week, the results are projected to largely inversely mirror the results of 2008, where Obama won some 53% of the vote to McCain’s 46% with 1% other.  With the Independents splitting evenly or slightly in favor of the Republicans, the 2010 results would range from 53% to 56% Republicans to 44% to 47% for the Democrats.  Of course there are still six weeks before the election with game-altering ‘October Surprises’ a very real possibility.

Some seventy political buzzwords were tracked; the analysis was concluded on September 22, 2010.

The Top Political Buzzwords Six Weeks Out include:

1.  Narrative  – Idea of the narrative is a strong No. 1

2.  Lower Taxes – 600% higher than Raise Taxes (No. 10)

3.  Obama Muslim Connection - Two weeks before 2008 Election it was No . 6

4.  Conservatives – Stand at 43% of sample citations

5.  Climate Change – Always one of Top 5

6.  Liberal - Liberal/Progressives stand at 33% of Citations

7.  Recession (linked to Obama) – Over 4x the number that link to GWB (No.20)

8.  Hillary Clinton – Hillary Ascendant

9.  Tea Partiers – Very strong for a recent phenomenon

10. Obama Aloof, detached, Professorial – Reached peak in reaction to his handling the Gulf Oil Spill

11. Raise Taxes – Only 16% of lower taxes (No. 2)

12. Progressive – 74% of Liberal citations; Liberal/Progressives stand at 33% of Citations

13. Deficit Spending – Close to Out-of-Control Spending (No.15)

14. Independents – Independents stand at 20% of citations

15. Out-of-control Spending — Spending is widely viewed as out-of-control

16. Sarah Palin – Apparently, opposition only makes her stronger

17. Healthcare Mandate – Nearly triple the concern for HC Reform (No. 21)

18. Change you can believe in – Not so much, these days

19. Iraq War – Far from top of Mind

20. Recession (linked to Bush) – Warning to Dems, this is fading from view

21. Healthcare reform – Comes in just a bit higher than the Gulf Oil Spill

22. BP Gulf Oil Spill —  The BP SpillCam was the No. 1 Television Word (Teleword) of the Year

23. Anti-incumbent — It’s not just a matter of anger; lower than pundits have it

24.  Obama “oil spill” response — Major factor in negativity of overall narrative

25. Al Qaeda – Low ranking reflected by several polls, also

26. George Bush — Not much value in running a ‘Not Bush’ Campaign

27.  Wall Street Bailout – Bush, Bailout, Pelosi and Limbaugh, Cheney (and Reid) line up closely

28.  Grand Zero Mosque – More than 110 times the number of citations for 51 Park Place

29. Nancy Pelosi — Off the radar nowadays

30. Rush Limbaugh – Interesting pairing at Nos, 29 and 30, no?

Other highlights include:

· Afghanistan stands at No. 37

· Obama is now linked to Katrina more often than Bush

· Transparency now stands at No. 43

· Birther seems to receive much more media than deserved (No. 49)

· Sarah Palin’s malapropism Refudiate is No. 55

· Shovel Ready is down to No. 64.

Top Political Buzzwords of Past Elections

  • The Top Political Buzzwords of the 2008 Elections included: Change, Climate Change, the price of Gasoline, Recession, Experience, and Obama as a Muslim
  • The Top Political Buzzwords for the 2006 Midterm Elections included: Throes, Quagmire, Credibility, Global Warming, and Insurgency
  • The Top Political Buzzwords from the 2004 Elections included: Swift Boats, Flip Flop, Quagmire, Fahrenheit 911, Misleader, and Liar!

About Narrative Tracker

The Narrative Tracker is based on the national discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic, at any point in time. NarrativeTracker analyzes the Internet, blogosphere, the print and electronic media, as well as new social media sources (such as Twitter). In addition to the NTI, the NarrativeTracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the narratives being tracked.

NTI by its very nature is non-biased. When we take a statistical snapshot there is no adjustment for ‘underrepresented’ groups, there are no assumptions about probability of turnout, the proportions of newly registered voters, traditional models, or expanded modularity’s. In other words, it is what it is.



‘Refudiate’: Why Sarah Palin’s Twitter flub may outlast her

By John Austin | Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Pundits jumped on Sarah Palin when she recently tweeted that people should “refudiate” plans for a New York City mosque near Ground Zero.

“Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate,” Palin tweeted.

The tweet was quickly deleted, and refute replaced refudiate, but the clips of Palin using the word on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show have not gone away. Nor has the flap over how the former governor and vice presidential candidate let her linguistic slip show.

Still, while Palin is no Shakespeare — a famous coiner of words — it may be wrong to misunderestimate refudiate too quickly.

“In English, the tradition is words bubble up from the people,” said Paul J.J. Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor in Austin. “If it’s used, it’s accepted as a word.”

George W. Bush’s notorious use of misunderestimate is a good example of how what’s called a portmanteau word can find acceptance.

Like an old-fashioned portmanteau traveling case that opens into two compartments like a book, portmanteau words such as refudiate combine two other words in form and meaning.  [Read More.]



“Refudiating” Word Games: What would Edwin Newman Think?

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What would have the late newsman and grammar guru Edwin Newman thought about airwaves and cyberspace filled with “refudiate” and “guido?”

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By JERE HESTERSep 16, 2010
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It’s hard to refudiate that we lost one of our great TV journalists and guardians of the language with the recent death of NBC’s Edwin Newman.

In fact, it’s impossible to refudiate – because “refudiate” isn’t a word.

We imagine that Newman, who displayed a strong sense of humor in his TV commentaries, writings and appearances on David Letterman’s old morning show and “Saturday Night Live,” might have gotten a rueful chuckle out of Sarah Palin’s tweeted mash-up of “refute” and “repudiate.”

Newman, whose death at age 91 was reported Wednesday, famously asked in “Strictly Speaking,” his 1974 bestseller on the state of language, “Will America be the death of English?”

GLM Comment:  In fact the exact opposite has occurred — American English has spurred the English to a new level, from Old English, to Middle English, to Modern English to what might be deemed, in contemporary fashion, English 2.0.

Recent evidence doesn’t bode well for the mother tongue. The folks at Merriam-Webster this month named “refudiate” the Word of the Summer – and reported that the non-word spurred many searches on its online dictionary.

Meanwhile, The Global Language Monitor last week released its annual list of the popular “telewords” (which isn’t really a word itself). Placing No. 3 on the group’s “Top Words from Television” list for the 2009-2010 TV season was “guido.”

That anti-Italian slur became a catchword, thanks to the cast of “Jersey Shore” – a place, at least on MTV, where young people foolishly acting out stereotypes are celebrated and rewarded. (In other signs of the times, The Monitor’s top two entries were “BP Spillcam” and “dysfunctional.”) [Read More.]



Politics Now Driven by Competing Narratives

Clarence Page’s (Chicago Tribune, contributor to PBS News Hour, etc.)  take on this new phenomenon.

GLM Comment:  The Global Language Monitor has been tracking political buzzwords since 2003.  See

our latest news on Political Narratives at our NarrativeTracker pages.

With less than two months to go until the November midterm elections, a clear winner is beginning to emerge in the race to declare the year’s biggest political buzzword.

Hey, buzzwords matter. Who could forget — no matter how much we might like to – such hits from years past as “chad,” “Swift Boat” and “lipstick” as it might be smeared on a pig or a pitbull?

On Tuesday, the website Global Language Monitor, based in Austin, which has been monitoring words on thousands of news, blogs and social network sites since 2003, announced the No. 1 political buzzword so far this year – beating out “climate change,” “Obama Muslim,” “lower taxes” and even “tea partiers” – is (drum roll please) “the narrative.”

The Narrative? “It’s been running strong since last spring,” GLM President Paul J.J. Payack told me in a telephone interview.

That confirmed my suspicion. I don’t even have a computerized algorithm like Payack does, but I, too, had begun to notice in my fanatical surfing of political media that the word “narrative” was popping up with increasing frequency.

For example, Steve and Cokie Roberts observed in a recent column, “For a growing number of Americans, President Barack Obama’s narrative no longer defines who he is.”

Columnist Maureen Dowd similarly wondered back in June how such a gifted storyteller as Obama could “lose control of his own narrative.”

E.J. Dionne, writing in The New Republic, notes Obama has decided to “confront a deeply embedded media narrative that sees a Republican triumph as all but inevitable.”

In fact, “narrative” was popping up so much in reference to Obama as he grappled with crises like the Gulf oil spill that a Washington Post reporter was inspired to lead one feature with, “Sing to me of the Obama narrative, Muse.”  [Read More.]



Obama Turns Page on His Winning Rhetorical Style — and the Iraq War

Analysis of Obama’s ‘Turn the Page’ Oval Office address

AUSTIN, TX, September 7, 2010 – President Barack Obama, in his second Oval Office address announced the “American combat mission in Iraq has ended [and] Operation Iraqi Freedom is over”.    The seventeen-minute long speech, Obama acknowledged President George W. Bush, but neither thanked him for his role as former Commander-in-Chief nor credited him with the ‘Surge,’ other than as a reference to the current operations in Afghanistan.  The Surge, the change in military tactics during the height of the conflict, is widely credited with changing the course of the war.  The analysis was performed by the Global Language Monitor.  GLM has been analyzing presidential speeches since the turn of the century.

Not surprisingly, the President’s tone was sober, direct, and matter of fact, even workmanlike.  There were small rhetorical flourishes, such as referring to “our troops are the steel in our ship of state”.  He clearly proclaimed his devotion and admiration for the troops at the same time distancing himself from the war, its causes and execution. His emphasis was on ‘Turning the page’.

His address contained about half the number of passive constructions (7% vs. 13%) as his previous Oval Office address in June.  His sentences were some 5% shorter while the length of his paragraphs increased some 20%, which allowed him to more fully express his thinking.

When compared to other presidents’ addresses over the last several decades, this speech compared most closely from a ‘hearability’ or ‘readability’ point of view to President Reagan’s “Tear Down this Wall” speech;  however, rhetorically this was not the case.

As for grade-level (using the standard Flesch-Kincaid metrics), this speech was on with Obama’s more recent efforts (between ninth and tenth grades).  As noted previously, Obama has moved away from the rhetorical style of his most widely praised oratorical efforts, the ‘Yes We Can’ victory speech in Grant Park and his 2004 Democratic Convention effort in Boston).  (The actual numbers are 9.5 and 7.4 and 8.3 respectively.)  In doing so, he seems to have abandoned his earlier formula that resulted in the direct emotional impact of his campaign oratory.

[Note:  this article clocked in at a 12.3 grade reading level.]

In May 2003, President Bush gave his now infamous ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech declaring an ‘End To Major Combat In Iraq’.  However, during the speech, he never actually uttered ‘Mission Accomplished’.  Those words were on the ship returning to the San Diego Naval Base, as is the tradition, from overseas duty.   Fortunately for President Obama, his backdrop was the Oval Office and pictures of his wife and family.



Not a Recession but a Global Economic Restructuring …

Summary:  What we are experiencing is not a recession, neither great nor small, but rather a global transference of wealth, power and prestige on an unprecedented level.  (This article, which appeared in a slightly differing form earlier this year, is written by Paul JJ Payack and Edward ML Peters.)

Austin, Texas, September 7, 2010 — Originally alluded to as a ‘Financial Tsunami’ or ‘Financial Meltdown,’ the major global media continue to call our current economic condition  ‘The Great Recession’.  In the beginning, most comparisons were being made to the Great Economic Depression of the 1930s, more familiarly known, simply, as ‘The Depression’ in the same way that many still refer to World War II as ‘The War’.  But even these comparisons frequently ended up referring to the recession of 1982, yet another so-called ‘Great Recession’.

The difficulty here stems from the fact that this economic crisis is difficult to express in words because it does not resemble any economic crisis of the past — but rather a crisis of another sort.

In On War, one of the most influential books on military strategy of all time, the Prussian career soldier Carl von Clausewitz (1780 – 1831) stated one of his most respected tenets, “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means,” which is frequently abbreviated to “War is diplomacy carried out by other means’ and by other rules than those of the political and financial norm of the recent past.

We believe that the reason the “Great Recession” label doesn’t fit now is because what we are experiencing is not a recession, neither great nor small, but rather a global transference of wealth, power and prestige on an unprecedented level, carried out ‘by other means’ and by other rules than those of the political and financial norm of the recent past.

This fact is entrapping two US presidents, from radically diverging political viewpoints, in the same dilemma:  describing an economic phenomenon, that doesn’t play by the old rules.  Therefore the difficulty experienced by President Bush as he struggled to describe how the US economy was not in a recession since the GDP had not declined for two consecutive quarters, the traditional definition of a recession, even though jobs were being shed by the millions and the global banking system teetered on the brink of collapse.  Now we have President Obama, attempting to describe how the US economy is emerging out of a recession, though the collateral damage in terms of the evaporation of wealth, mortgages, and jobs remains apparently undaunted and unabated.

The regional or global transfer of wealth, power and influence, the destruction of entire industries and the so-called collateral (or human) damage are all hallmarks of what is now being experienced in the West.

If you carefully disassemble the events of the last decade or two, one can see them as the almost inevitable conclusion of a nameless war that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the embrace of a form of the free-market system by China, India and the other rising states, an almost unprecedented transfer of wealth from the Western Economies to the Middle East (Energy) and South and East Asia (manufactured good and services), and the substantial transfer of political power and influence that  inevitably follows.

It currently appears that the Western Powers most affected by these transfers cannot adequately understand, or even explain, their present circumstances in a way that makes sense to the citizenry, let alone actually reverse (or even impede) the course of history.  In fact the larger realities are playing out while the affected societies seemingly default to the hope that they ultimately can exert some sort of control over a reality that is out of their grasp and control.

The good news here is that the transfers of wealth, power and influence has proven relatively bloodless but nonetheless destructive for the hundreds of millions of those on the front lines of the economic dislocations.

And it is in this context that the perceived resentment of the Islamic and Arab states should be more clearly viewed.  This is especially so as they watch helplessly as the new global reality and re-alignments unfold.

In conclusion, it can be argued that the difficulty in naming the current economic crisis is the fact that is not an economic crisis at all but rather a transformational event involving the global transfer of wealth, power and influence, the destruction of entire industries along with the associated collateral (or human) damage.

[Read More.]



Widespread Concern about Keeping One’s Insurance & Rising Costs

According to Healthcare NarrativeTracker™

Social Media and Internet Citations More than Double in 90 Days

DALLAS & AUSTIN, Texas (August 17, 2010) — The Healthcare NarrativeTracker™ has found a sharply rising national concern about keeping one’s insurance and rising healthcare costs in light of the regulations associated with the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The new results of the Healthcare NarrativeTracker Index™ (NTI™) were reported earlier today by OpenConnect, the leader process intelligence and analytics solutions, and The Global Language Monitor, the media analytics company.

The NTI has found that the number of social media and Internet citations are significantly diverging among those who cite healthcare price and premium increases vs. those citing lower costs and premiums decreasing. For example the price and premium percentage increase is now nearly double the percentage (188%) for price and premiums decreasing.

In addition, the analysis indicates that the number of social media and Internet citations regarding ‘keeping one’s insurance’ vs. ‘losing one’s insurance’ have also diverged significantly, especially over the last ninety days, with the citations for ‘losing one’s insurance’ increasing some 1160% over the period.

“The numbers in the Healthcare NarrativeTracker are widely supported by the polls, the surveys, and the media,” said Edward M.L. Peters, CEO of OpenConnect and author of The Paid-for Option, which describes how only through the application of innovation and technology can productivity be achieved in the healthcare industry. “The predictive element of the Healthcare NTI has correctly foreshadowed this shift in public sentiment; it will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the run-up to the mid-term elections.”

On August 3, voters in Missouri overwhelmingly (71%) supported a state measure barring the federal government from penalizing those who do not acquire health insurance – a key measure for funding the Obama Healthcare Reform plan. Other evidence indicates that support for Healthcare reform is flagging. According to the Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll “shows erosion in the intensity of support. Last month, 23 percent of Americans held ‘very favorable’ views of the law. This month, that figure is 14 percent, with most of the falloff coming among Democrats (Republicans and independents already being skeptical).” Other polling reinforces these views.

The Healthcare NTI™ is based on the national discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic related to healthcare, at any point in time. NarrativeTracker analyzes the Internet, blogosphere, the print and electronic media, as well as new social media sources (such as Twitter). In addition to the NTI, the NarrativeTracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the narratives being tracked.

The Healthcare NTI is released monthly. The first analysis completed in May 2010 detailed the various narratives surrounding Massachusetts Healthcare reform, a healthcare model which has been adopted in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as the national healthcare reform bill.

About OpenConnect:   OpenConnect is the leader in process intelligence and analytics solutions that automatically discover workforce, process and customer variations that hinder operational efficiency. Armed with this information, executives can make the quick and incremental improvements that will increase process efficiency, improve employee productivity, reduce cost, and raise profitability. With a rich history of developing innovative technology, OpenConnect products are distributed in more than 60 countries and used by more than 60 percent of Fortune 100 companies. For more information on OpenConnect, visit www.oc.com.

About the Global Language Monitor:   Austin, Texas-based Global Language Monitor analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices, and their impact on the various aspects of culture, with a particular emphasis upon Global English. Since 2003, GLM has launched a number of innovative products and services monitoring the Internet, the Blogosphere, Social Media as well as the Top 25,000 print and electronic media sites

For more information, call 1.925.367.7557, email editor@GlobalLanguageMonitor.com, or visit www.LanguageMonitor.com.

 

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Obama Narrative 2.0

Out-of-touch moves into No. 1 position over Deficit Spending; Oil Spill tops Health Care Reformer

Austin, Texas, July 24, 2010 – As the political calendar inexorably heads toward the Mid-term elections, the focus on President Obama’s competing ‘narratives’ continue to play out in the media.

Since his Oval Address on the Oil Spill, Obama’s personal narrative is being shaped by forces largely out of his control, such as the on-going Gulf drama.  These are how the five most prevalent competing narratives compare, according to Austin-based Global Language Monitor (GLM).  GLM has been monitoring the language of politics since 2003.

The ranking of the President’s five most prominent narrative arcs include:

  1. Obama as out-of-touch or aloof – This is up 1200% since the beginning of the year; this is the converse of Hope and Change.
  2. Obama and the deficit — Words linking Obama to deficit have increased some 2500% since the beginning of 2010.
  3. Obama and the Oil Spill — A very fast mover now ahead of Obama as Health Care reformer.  Could the completion of the relief well turn this around?
  4. Obama as HealthCare Reformer –   Losing steam quickly for the president’s signature achievement.
  5. Obama as the Chicago-style pol — A continued, steady rise in linking Obama to old-style Chicago politics.

“At this point, all five narratives in play are problematic for the president,” said Paul JJ Payack, GLM’s president and chief word analyst. “With the Mid-terms some hundred days away, the president needs a series of (possibly unexpected) positive events to stem this tide.”

Obama Narrative 2.0, the underlying storyline that will largely define the president in the run-up to the Mid-term elections and, possibly, for time remaining in his term.   The ‘narrative’ refers to the stream of public opinion captured by blogs and other social media outlets on the Internet, as well as the leading print and electronic databases.

The NarrativeTracker Index  (NTI), the first product specifically designed to use social media-based monitoring to better understand the issues driving any particular topic. Because the NTI is based on the national discourse, it provides a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic, at any point in time. In addition to the NTI, the Narrative Tracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the opinions surrounding a single issue.

NTI tracks the ‘narrative’ of a subject, as well as projecting future trajectories for the narrative.    The result has several advantages over traditional polls:  1) Immediacy; 2) The lack of any bias that tends to creep into traditional polling, e.g., when individuals answer questions with what they think are the ‘correct’ answers rather than their true opinions; and 3) NTI lets policy and decision makers focus on the true issues driving perceptions and concerns rather than being driven by false and phantom concepts.  In addition, the Narrative Tracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative.

NTI is more effective in capturing the true opinion of the public because it tracks unfiltered keywords in Social Media and other sources, rather than how that opinion is interpreted by the news media or by pollsters.

The NTI is based on the GLM’s Predictive Quantities Indicator™ (PQI™). The PQI tracks the frequency of words and phrases in global print and electronic media on the Internet, throughout the Blogosphere and other social media outlets as well as accessing proprietary databases. The PQI is a weighted index that factors in long-term trends, short-term changes, momentum, and velocity.



Healthcare NarrativeTracker Detects Growing Concern about Containing Costs

Keeping Costs Low vs. Rising Costs

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DALLAS & AUSTIN, Texas, July 7, 2010The Healthcare NarrativeTracker™ has detected a growing wave of concern throughout the nation about containing rising Healthcare costs. The catalyst stems from the new regulations being now written to implement The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. At this point the affordability issue is coalescing around the President Obama’s oft-stated pledge that you can keep current Health Insurance plans if you so choose.  As M.I.T. health economist Jonathan Gruber recently stated, “It’s unclear that companies will want to have the same insurance plan in 2014 that they have in 2010.”

These facts have not gone unnoticed by the public and are considered by many to be a significant turnaround from earlier analyses, where people took at face value the President’s oft-stated words: “If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period.” Obama declared in a speech to the American Medical Association last June, “No one will take it away, no matter what.” In fact, the New York Times recently reported that the government calculates that while 70 percent of small-business plans will remain grandfathered in 2011 that number will drop to 34 percent in 2013. Apparently, even the routine changes that occur every year as employers search for better products can be defined as changing the plan enough to obviate the provision that allows you to keep your current insurance, potentially leading to increasing costs for employer and employee alike.

Subsequent analysis of the Internet, blogosphere, the print and electronic media, as well as new social media sources (such as Twitter) has shown that the public is aware of this shift. The results of the Healthcare NarrativeTracker Index™ (NTI™) were reported by OpenConnect, the leading company in event-driven intelligence solutions, and The Global Language Monitor, the media analytics company.

“Policies need to be evaluated by the effect they will have on the cost incurred with their implementation. The economics of healthcare reform need to be based on changes that help pay for themselves rather than make the problem worse. Only by realizing the type of efficiencies that have kept America in the forefront of world economic growth for the past century and a half will we be able to keep costs under current projections. All that is necessary is to summon the courage to make the tough choices ahead,” said Edward M.L. Peters, CEO of OpenConnect and author of The Paid-for Option, which details the methodology that has proven effective in the healthcare industry.

The Healthcare NarrativeTracker has detected rising concern about price increases perceived to be associated with the implementation of yet-to-be written regulations. The public is well-aware of the overall trillion dollar cost of the program, as well as associated costs, such as the so-called ‘Doc Fix’ not directly counted with the Healthcare Reform effort budget.

In the first three months of this year, conversations about keeping the price of insurance low were exceeded by conversations with those concerned about the rising costs of their healthcare by some 40%.

In the same manner, in the first three months of this year, conversations about keeping one’s insurance were surpassed by those about losing their insurance by some 54%. For the first six months of this year, the conversations about keeping one’s insurance were surpassed by those about losing their insurance by some 43% but with volume of the conversations increasing over 11,200%.

In summation, the media discussion resonating throughout the Internet, blogosphere and social media is driving the online discussion and conversations. This is particularly true when such narratives are being driven by articles such as those written by Dr. Marc Siegel who concludes, “the regulations impose a major vise on private insurance, restricting a company’s ability to increase cost sharing (such as coinsurance, deductibles and out-of pocket limits) as well as copayments (“more than the sum of medical inflation plus 15 percentage points or $5 increased by medical inflation”). So it is unlikely that many insurers will be able to remain viable without raising premiums (not restricted by the regulations) or slashing services.”

The NarrativeTracker Index is the first product specifically designed to use social media-based monitoring to better understand the issues driving healthcare reform. Because the Healthcare NTI is based on the national discourse, it provides a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic related to healthcare, at any point in time. In addition to the NTI, the NarrativeTracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the opinions surrounding a single issue.

The NTI is based on the GLM’s Predictive Quantities Indicator™ (PQI™). The PQI tracks the frequency of words and phrases in global print and electronic media on the Internet, throughout the Blogosphere and other social media outlets as well as accessing proprietary databases. The PQI is a weighted index that factors in long-term trends, short-term changes, momentum, and velocity.

The Healthcare NTI is released monthly. The first analysis completed in May 2010 details the various narratives surrounding Massachusetts Healthcare reform, a healthcare model which has been adopted in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as the national healthcare reform bill.



The Internet’s Fury Scorned

Obama Oval Office speech analysis provokes unprecedented response


Austin, Texas, July 2, 2010.  The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed a great many terrible, sad and historical events, with a few, unfortunately fleeting moments of great joy sprinkled between the dirges.  We have done our best to analyze the impact of these events on the global print and electronic media as well as on the Internet, throughout the blogosphere, and now the emerging social media.

After analyzing political speeches for a decade now, as well as all 55 Presidential Inaugural Addresses and transcripts of historical interest (including Washington’s Farewell Address, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, FDR’s ‘Live in Infamy’ radio address, Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech) you would think that we had seen and heard everything by now.

However, it wasn’t until our analysis of the President’s Gulf Spill Oval Office address, that we experienced the full force of the Internet’s fury scorned.

And this for an analysis that we considered basically non-newsworthy.

President Obama had given yet another address to the nation.  GLM used the same standardized, widely available, language tools that we used to name Obama’s Grant Park  ”Yes, we can!” victory address as one that ranked with the greatest of presidential orations.  Now these same standardized, time-tested tools are being conveniently criticized as of questionable repute.

We were told that our analysis was either ‘bashing Obama’ or ‘excusing Obama’. At the same time, we were either ‘insulting the people’ or ‘insulting the President’. Finally, it was suggested that we were rather transparently calling for the President to ‘dumb down the rhetoric’ so that one and all might understand  the superior intelligence of ‘his highness’.  Whoa!

Apparently, many readers never got over the headline, missing the actual analysis and what the numbers told us about the speech. Our concern was that our initial headline, Obama Oil Spill Speech Echoes Elite, Aloof Ethos might be considered demeaning to the President.  Wrong.  It was considered demeaning to everyone on the Left and the Right.

For general information on the readability tests used by GLM, click here.

For scientific literature about readability tests, enter Flesch or readability into the ERIC database.

We were surprised to learn that offense was, apparently,  taken in equal proportions by both the Right (Language Expert: If You Didn’t Like Obama’s Oil Spill Speech, It’s Probably Because You’re Stupid) and the Left (Obama Oil Spill Speech Criticized By CNN’s Language Analyst For Not Being Moronic Enough) of the political spectrum.   Nevertheless, we were quite amused by The ColbertReport’s send-up of our (and CNN’s) report, which somehow struck a middle chord.

It was also enlightening to see a significant proportion of this criticism to be ad hominem attacks, focusing on ourselves rather than our analysis.  (Read FAQ about GLM and Paul JJ Payack here.)

This past December, we encountered fierce criticism from the Chinese government dailies because  we named ‘The Rise of China” as the No. 1 news story of the decade.  (You can follow the narrative arc of this controversy here. )  But the criticism that accompanied the Obama Gulf Spill speech, was a good bit nastier, indeed.

Our analyses of the three preceding US Presidential elections were praised from many quarters from the New York Times to Nicholas Kristof to NPR to the worldwide media.  During the preceding ten years, few alleged political motivation, or denounced the standard language-measurement tools as inherently flawed. In fact, as long as readers basically agreed with the more predictable outcomes, there were few complaints.  Here were some of those results:  Ross Perot scored the lowest we’ve ever recorded, John F, Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were stars, both Bushes settled in the middle of the middle school years, and Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’ speech had nearly equivalent numbers to Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream’ speech and Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’.   So far, so good.  We did have a few outliers, such as Sarah Palin achieving quite a high score during her debate with Joe Biden, which was duly noted by New York Magazine and quite easy to explain.

Here’s what we attempted to communicate:

1.  Obama’s speech, though deserving a ‘solid B’ did not live up to his past efforts.

2.  Obama’s most well-regarded speech came in a at 7.4 grade level.  This is not talking down to the American people.  This is communicating clear and concisely to his audience.  This is Obama at his best, communicating with a deft combination of vision, passion and rhetoric.

In fact, our headline for that effort read: Obama’s “Yes, We Can” Speech Ranked with “I have a Dream,” “Tear Down this Wall,” and JFK Inaugural. Rather high praise, indeed.

Our commentary read:

Obama’s “Yes, We Can” speech delivered Tuesday night in Chicago’s Grant Park ranked favorably in tone, tenor and rhetorical flourishes with memorable political addresses of the recent past including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s   “I have a Dream” speech, “Tear Down this Wall,” by Ronald  Reagan and John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.

“As is appropriate for a forward-looking message of hope and reconciliation, words of change and hope, as well as future-related constructions dominated the address,” said Paul JJ Payack President and Chief Word Analyst of the Global Language Monitor.  “Evidently, Obama is at his best at connecting with people at the 7th to 8th grade range, communicating directly to his audience using simple yet powerful rhetorical devices, such as the repetition of the cadenced phrase ‘Yes, we can’, which built to a powerful conclusion.”

Well-regarded, indeed (and well-deserved).

3.   GLM and our predecessor site, yourDictionary.com have analyzed every presidential inaugural since that of George Washington.  The idea was, and continues to be, to look at the presidents’ words in the total historical context of the American presidency.

In 2001, we were quoted as saying,

Our goal was to spot trends that are all to easily overlooked in the political (and all too partisan) passions of the moment” [and continued that our] analysis included patterns of word usage choices, the use of such grammatical constructions as passive voice, the length of words and sentences, the number of paragraphs, and other parameters of language to gauge the content [including] the well-regarded Flesch-Kincaid Reading Scale.

4.  The use of Industry-standard language analytics.  The Fogg Index, the Flesch Test, the Flesch-Kinkaid Reading Scale, and many others, are used in all forms of publishing from technical manuals to ensuring proper comprehension levels for textbooks used for various ages and classes.  This has been true for more than fifty years.

The reason we choose to use the standard tests and analytical tools was a simple one:  to enable the same set of measurements over any period of time.  And also that these analyses could be replicated by scholars and historians and journalists the world over.

5.  We use our proprietary tool, the Predictive Quantities Indicator or PQI to measure media analytics, narrative tracking, and TrendTopper Media Buzz, as such we do not use the PQI for this task.

By the Way, here are a few historical precedents;

  • Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796 — 12.0.
  • Lincoln-Douglas debates, 1858 — Stephen Douglas’ seven speeches averaged a 12th-grade level 11.9; Lincoln’s averaged 11.2.
  • President Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration of war in December 1941 — 11.5.
  • Nixon-Kennedy Debates, 1960 — The first nationally televised debates:  Kennedy, 9.6 ; Nixon, 9.1.
  • Carter-Ford Debates, 1976 — Carter, 10.4; Ford, 11.0.
  • Carter-Reagan debate  – Carter, 12.0; Reagan, 10.7.
  • Reagan-Mondale debates — Reagan, 9.8;  Mondale, 8.7.
  • Dukakis-Bush debates of 1988 — Dukakis, 8.9; Bush, 6.7 grade.
  • Bush-Clinton-Perot debates of 1992 — Carter, 8.5, Bush, 6.5, Perot, 6.3.
  • Bush-Gore debate of 2000 — Bush, 7.1, Gore, 8.4.
  • Cheney-Lieberman, V.P. Debate — Lieberman, 9.9; Dick Cheney, 9.1.

And for good measure, Hamlet’s ‘To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy’, Shakespeare, c. 1600, comes in at 10.6.

Now Kathleen Parker has considerably upped the ante when applied readability statistics in her premise about Barack Obama as the first ‘feminine president’ ….



How Obama lost control of the oil-spill narrative

WORD OF MOUTH:  Colleen Ross

Colleen Ross


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The usual key to staying on top in the murky world of politics is to control the narrative. And, by all linguistic accounts, Barack Obama’s control of the oil spill narrative has slipped away.

Lonely warrior. Barack Obama counting tar balls on a Louisiana beach in May 2010. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Lonely warrior. Barack Obama counting tar balls on a Louisiana beach in May 2010. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

In his first prime-time address from the Oval Office recently, Obama attempted to take back the reins by employing warrior-like language.

In his best Churchill impression, he spoke about “the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens,” going on to vow that “we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes.”

The president then talked about creating a battle plan as well as the need to develop energy independence and to “fight for the America we want for our children.”

Click Here to Listen to Colleen Ross’ Podcasts

The president then talked about creating a battle plan as well as the need to develop energy independence and to “fight for the America we want for our children.”

In fact, Obama’s rhetoric around America’s biggest environmental disaster has intensified in recent weeks.

Accused of not being angry enough at the company that has still not managed to fully plug a gushing oil well, “No Drama” Obama, as he was once known, is using tougher language and framing the oil spill as an environmental 9/11.

He also uttered the now oft-quoted explanation of why he’s spending so much time talking to experts: So he can “know whose ass to kick.”

Oil-spill enabler

But in this unfolding drama, with a wavering protagonist, a motley crew of characters and a slick, unrelenting enemy, one is compelled to shout in frustration: “Words, words, words!”

Duelling narratives

(An unscientific, comparison)

BP: Use remotely operated underwater vehicles to try to reactivate blowout preventer.

Political narrative: Remotely control response, i.e. let Coast Guard handle it.

BP: Introduce small tube into burst pipe to slow flow.

Political narrative: Introduce oil spill commission and temporarily stop offshore drilling

BP: Drill relief wells, this is going to take awhile.

Political narrative: Drill home the need for relief/compensation (this is going to take awhile)

Therein lies the problem, says language analyst Paul Payack. Words alone mean nothing if they are not backed up by action and, as a result, Obama has lost control of what he wants to say.

“He who wins control of the narrative controls the story in terms of political capital,” says Payack. And at the moment, Obama isn’t doing so well, which could hurt his party in the November mid-term elections.

According to Payack, the most important storyline currently defining the president is “Obama as oil spill enabler.”

Read more



Keep Presidential Speeches Smart

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Medialand

Trevor Butterworth, 06.22.10

Trevor Butterworth is the editor of stats.org, an affiliate of George Mason University that looks at how numbers are used in public policy and the media. He writes a weekly column for Forbes.

If the Gulf oil spill is a national tragedy, the arguments over President Obama’s response to it have descended into a national farce. When former law professors go looking for “ass to kick,” they end up looking like the eponymous hero of Kickass, a nerdy kid copying moves he’s seen in comic books. The difference is that the fictional Kickass was ennobled by failure, which, sadly, is not the kind of outcome open to the President of the United States in matters of national importance.

Obama’s mistake was to respond to the Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots of punditry. The country didn’t want Spock at the helm during environmental armageddon, they protested; the situation demanded a theatrically-appropriate response–as if the presidency was the background music to the movie of our lives, rousing in adversity, compassionate in suffering, a boom box of linguistic effects.

If style is the image of character, you cannot go from the calmest, most judicious intellectual in the room to a Schwarzenegger character in leather trousers and expect to be perceived as authentic. This is why responding to his critics was the wrong thing to do. By following their lame advice, by trying to be someone he isn’t, Obama sounded bathetic.

All of this is an object lesson in how democracy isn’t helped by the media. Just as an analysis of the Katrina response shows that it was a complex systematic failure of government and not a simple fumble by George W. Bush and “heck of a job” Brownie, the Gulf oil spill is not really in the league of a car wreck caused by distracted texting. The very intractability of the problem demands openness, an admission of complexity and a detailed description of solutions that are being pursued. And yet, according to one manufacturer of conventional wisdom, the problem was not that Obama’s White House address on the spill was too simple or vague, it was that it wasn’t simple enough. As CNN reported:

“Obama’s speech may have gone over the heads of many in his audience, according to an analysis of the 18-minute talk released Wednesday by Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor. Tuesday night’s speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Payack, who gave Obama a ‘solid B.’ His Austin, Texas-based company analyzes and catalogues trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture.”

The president’s 19.8 words per sentence apparently “added some difficulty for his target audience.” But 19.8 words is well within the breath of television’s cutthroat culture of political sound bites, which now stands at seven seconds. Indeed, as Elvin T. Lim notes in his brilliant historical and linguistic analysis of presidential rhetoric, The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, the average presidential sentence in recent years (as defined by speeches) has ranged from 15 to 20 words, well within the assumed attention span of the presumptive television viewer.

But now, even this is apparently too difficult for most Americans to follow. It gets worse. Take the following sentence from the President’s speech, “That is why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge–a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy.” According to Payack, this is the kind of phrasing that makes the President seem “aloof and out of touch.” It’s too professorial, too academic and not “ordinary enough.” Perhaps the President should just have tweeted “I got smart folks fixin’ to fix the oil spill” and let everyone go back to their regular broadcast fare or communicating with each other in grunts and clicks.

Read More



New York Magazine: Textbook Obama

Flash from the Past ( September 21, 2009) by Paul Bonanos

Which predecessor does his rhetoric most nearly echo? The data don’t lie: It’s Ronald Reagan.


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On Tuesday, President Obama spoke to schoolchildren; on Wednesday, to Congress. The easy punch line (same grade level, guys?) raises a real question: How does this president, whose comments on health care in particular had been criticized for lacking a clear take-home message, pitch his language? Does he strategically streamline his explanations for different audiences? To find out, we called upon science, in the form of Paul J. J. Payack, “president and chief word analyst” at an Austin, Texas, trend-watching outfit called the Global Language Monitor.

What Payack found when Obama’s speeches bubbled through his software was that the president didn’t treat Congress like a bunch of kids. His health-care speech clocks in at 9.0, indicating a ninth-grade reading level; the classroom speech, at 6.6. Those two figures more or less bookend the range for contemporary oration. Both Presidents Bush tended to fall around grade 7, as did Obama’s “Yes, We Can” speech. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” comes in at 8.8.

There’s plenty of room for sophisticated ideas at that level. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is sixth-grade material. So is The Hobbit. The Gettysburg Address rates a 9.1. That’s low for the nineteenth century, when florid oratory was in vogue—the Lincoln-Douglas debates took place at an eleventh-grade level, rarely heard today. “You can imagine how they’d talk—three, four hours long,” Payack says. “It really changed with the advent of radio.”

Nor is ninth-grade language too tough for a mainstream audience. Payack says that Ronald Reagan, the master of folksy explanation, is Obama’s closest match among recent presidents, with speeches that usually come in around 9 or 10. “The word was that he spoke in sound bites, but they’re very well-crafted sound bites.” The two presidents may differ in affect, content, and approach—Obama sometimes seems to develop his ideas through the very process of turning them into oratory, whereas Reagan more or less only had one idea—but not in linguistic complexity. Indeed, Obama has often expressed admiration for the Gipper’s ability to frame issues.

Payack explains that his proprietary algorithm is a variant of the standard Flesch Reading Ease Test, which is performed on many textbooks and educational materials: “It analyzes words per sentence, syllables per word, things of that nature. The theory is that the more complex the structure, the more syllables per word, the more difficult it is to understand.” Polysyllabicism and subclauses add complexity, and skew the score toward older readers. “To reach the greatest number of people, to communicate most crisply, to make sure your idea moves from your mind to someone else’s, you should speak in short sentences.” (Representative Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” achieves a prekindergarten rating.) For comparison, a Maureen Dowd column from last week was a 10.8, a Paul Krugman piece was a 12.5, and the story you’re reading now has a Flesch score of ninth grade.

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