obama’s education speech makes conservatives happy

Posted by on Sep 8, 2009 in extremism | 2 comments

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air thinks he’s being clever by putting Obama’s just released speech on education through a word frequency generator and then citing frequency of words as a window into the deeper meaning of the speech. It’s a silly and misleading exercise, since it strips all meaning out of the speech. It is words put into sentences and how sentences relate to each other that gives a speech meaning, not only the words. And, certainly not the frequency of the words removed from their overall context, as I’ll point out.

Of course, it’s a disinformation exercise meant to push Ed’s own conservative agenda in regard to the speech – “it’s all about Obama (and that means Obama is not to be trusted)” –  as revealed by his choice of words to zoom in on and his “supporting” statements.  It is also worth noting that Ed offers nary a comment on the actual theme, subject or text of the speech beyond trying to ignite some type of fight between Obama and Atheists.

The tally of important words in Obama’s speech according to Ed: (Emphasis added)

    56 iterations of “I”
    19 iterations of “school”
    10 iterations of “education”
    8 iterations of “responsibility”
    7 iterations of “country”
    5 iterations each of “parents”, “teachers”
    3 iterations of “nation”

    In other words, Barack Obama referenced himself more than school, education, responsibility, country/nation, parents, and teachers combined. And to think that people accused Obama of self-promotion!

So, what happens if you put George H.W. Bush’s speech to the faculty and students at Alice Deal Junior High School on October 1, 1991 into the word frequency generator? The tally for the exact same words chosen by Ed:

32 iterations of “I”
24 iterations of “school”
8 iterations of “education”
0 iterations of “responsibility”
5 iterations of “country”
6 iterations of “parents”
7 iterations of “teachers”
1 iteration of “nation”

Bush also used “I” more than any of the other words chosen by Ed, just like Obama did. And, what can we infer about Bush’s complete lack of using “responsibility”? It’s silly.

It’s not about the word count frequency, it’s about what the words say as sentences and as a whole speech. And, if you read both speeches, neither is self promoting beyond making it clear “this is what I went through” or “I did this”  etc. Here’s a pertinent example from Obama’s speech. It’s immediately clear why conservatives such as Ed don’t want to talk about the content, but only about totally mindless diversions such as “word frequency”. This is powerful, personal and important stuff for kids to hear:

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school.

That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

The use of first person is meant to be inspiring! That’s the importance of a president using first person in a speech such as this. “I” is an important literary device. And, juxtaposed with “you”, it has import, especially with children. And, there’s the rub:

What was the most used word in Obama’s speech? “You”.

Way out in the lead at 145 times. (Bush used it 85 times, second behind “the”.) Ed didn’t write about that did he? Just what can we infer about Bush using “the” more than any other word? It’s ridiculous. But, that’s Ed’s “logic”.

What Ed is avoiding is that presidential speeches to children are traditionally of the “Hi, I’m president and you can be too some day if you stay in school” variety. Thus, “I” is used. And, as a writer, if you are being personal, you have to use “I”. It doesn’t necessarily mean the speech is “all about Obama” as Ed is stating. Such speeches are often about the president and the presidency, and Obama is president. Ed takes the context completely out of the speech by breaking it down to frequency of each word and it only serves to alter the real meaning of the speech, obscuring Obama’s message thereby obstructing any forward movement.

We are going to be hearing a lot of the word “obstructionist” in the days and years ahead.

People bound by fear will stand frozen on the tracks as the train rushes upon them.

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