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



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