Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Ezra Klein attempts to quantify Obama's narcissism

In his WaPo Blog today, Ezra provides some data on Obama's narcissism.

Echoing Michael Gerson's blog post from late September accusing Obama of serious narcissism in his UN speech, George Will jumps on the Olympic ego trip bandwagon. In his column today, Will does a word count:"In the 41 sentences of her remarks, Michelle Obama used some form of the personal pronouns 'I' or 'me' 44 times. Her husband was, comparatively, a shrinking violet, using those pronouns only 26 times in 48 sentences." Gerson had said of Obama's UN speech that he could not recall another "major American speech in which the narcissism of a leader has been quite so pronounced."

Ezra points us to Language Logs' Mark Liberman who took a look at this question once before and republished his results today in response to Will's column,

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).

Liberman also considered the possibility that Obama had become more narcissistic with the passage of time,

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).

Liberman should crunch the numbers on some of Reagan's pressers and speeches. Reagan loved to tell stories in which he was the featured hero (including a story of his witnesses the liberation of death camps in occupied Europe which was a complete fabrication. Reagan was never left the US during the WWII years).

And finally, like Ezra, I'd love to see Will and Gerson to respond, but there's no chance of that. Will, after all, still denies global warming.

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