Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The Arizona Daily Star ran an op-ed by George F. Will that suggests that Obama is some kind of narcissist because he uses the first-person pronoun too much in his speeches. Naturally, the marching morons who comment on the Star's Web site jumped on the bandwagon, saying this is proof that Obama is all about self-aggrandizement.
This is a popular meme on the right these days, but like so many others, it's not really true. Blogger Mark Liberman ran the numbers on Bush, Obama and Clinton—and guess what? Bush and Clinton use the first-person pronoun more than Obama does:
…since I'm one of those narrow-minded fundamentalists who believe that statements can be true or false, and that we should care about the difference, I decided to check. …
I took the transcript of Obama's first press conference (from 2/9/2009), and found that he used 'I' 163 times in 7,775 total words, for a rate of 2.10%. He also used 'me' 8 times and 'my' 35 times, for a total first-person singular pronoun count of 206 in 7,775 words, or a rate of 2.65%.
For comparison, I took George W. Bush's first two solo press conferences as president (from 2/22/2001 and 3/29/2001), and found that W used 'I' 239 times in 6,681 total words, for a rate of 3.58% — a rate 72% higher than Obama's rate. President Bush also used 'me' 26 times, 'my' 31 times, and 'myself' 4 times, for a total first-person singular pronoun count of 300 in 6,681 words, or a rate of 4.49% (59% higher than Obama).
For a third data point, I took William J. Clinton's first two solo press conferences as president (from 1/29/1993 and 3/23/1993), and found that he used 'I' 218 times, 'me' 34 times, 'my' 22 times, and 'myself' once, in 6,935 total words. That's a total of 275 first-person singular pronouns, and a rate of 3.14% for 'I' (51% higher than Obama), and 3.87% for first-person singular pronouns overall (50% higher than Obama).
As a result of this previous experience, I had a first-person-counting script all ready to go, and it took only a few seconds to check the new transcripts. This time around, Barack Obama's Olympic remarks included 26 first-person-singular words out of 1130, for a rate of 2.3%. This is slightly below his typical rate for presidential press conferences, and a bit more than half the rate of the George W. Bush pressers that I measured earlier (2.3/4.49 = 51%, to be precise).