Our posts about political language are usually reactions to things that politicians say, or things that pundits say about politicians. But this one is about something that mainstream pundits are not saying. Or more precisely, no longer saying very often.
The "President Me, Myself and I" meme — the false idea that Barack Obama uses first-person singular pronouns unusually, even unprecedentedly, often — seems to have slithered back into the swamp grass and gone dormant. It continues to infest the American Thinker (e.g. recently here), and it occasionally scurries out of the website weeds in places like Forbes, where one John Mariotti recently made a casual reference to the conventional falsehood in promoting his forthcoming book:
No other presidents in history have made so many speeches, appeared on television so many times, and used the pronouns “I” and “my” so many times.
But this sort of thing is not now regularly featured in the Op-Ed pieces of mainstream gasbags like George Will, Peggy Noonan, and Stanley Fish, as it was a few years ago.
As the 2012 presidential campaign goes forward, however, I predict that this meme will emerge from hibernation.
This is not to say that analyzing politician's word counts, and even their pronoun counts, is worthless or uninteresting. I'll post shortly on some interesting work by Jean Véronis related to the Observatoire des Discours ("Discourse Observatory") that he set up for Le Monde to analyze the current French presidential campaign.
The problem with the business about Obama's pronoun usage is that the pundits who have carried on about it hardly ever actually count anything, and make no relevant comparisons in the few cases where they do. Instead, they make unsupported assertions that turn out to be trivially false as a matter of mere fact.
If you find it hard to believe (as I do) that mainstream publications like The New York Times or The Washington Post would publish falsehoods about facts that can trivially be checked by counting words in the public record, please take a look at some of these links:
"Another pundit who can't (or won't) count" (6/23/2011)
"Two more pundits who don't count" (6/21/2011)
"Presidential pronouns, one more time" (5/22/2011)
"Recommended reading" (5/3/2011)
""A sociopath and narcissist and manipulator"" (8/9/2010)
"Open fraud as Op-Ed discourse" (7/10/2010)
"Them there I's" (2/11/2010)
"Fact-checking George F. Will, one more time" (10/6/2010)
"What is 'I' saying?" (8/9/2009)
"'I' is a camera" (7/18/2009)
"I again" (7/13/2009)
"Another pack member heard from" (6/9/2009)
"Royal Baloney" (6/9/2009)
"Inaugural pronouns" (6/8/2009)
"Obama's Imperial 'I': spreading the meme" (6/8/2009)
"Fact-checking George F. Will" (6/7/2009)