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.
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.