As best as I can tell, the right’s interest in President Obama’s pronouns began in earnest in 2010. Indeed, in February 2010, Fox News began publishing occasional reports that carefully counted the number of times Obama used the word “I” or “me” in a given speech, in the hopes of proving … something.
Over the holiday weekend, this started up again, with Fox Nation publishing this not-so-gripping report.
Leaving aside passages in which he quoted a Chicago pub owner and a letter from a citizen from Georgia, President Barack Obama used the first person singular—including the pronouns “I” and “me” and the adjective “my” – 91 times in a speech he delivered in Chicago Tuesday to explain his unilateral action on immigration.But as often as Obama used “I,” “me” and “my” in Chicago this week, it was no match for the speech he delivered in Austin, Texas, on July 10, when he used the first person singular 199 times.
There’s no real point to the criticisms, per se, and Fox never seems to draw any meaningful conclusions from these word-counts. They’re simply presented as controversial in their own right – as if it’s obvious that Americans should care how often a president uses “I” or “me” in a speech.
The trouble is, we already know that this is absurd, because by some measures, Obama actually uses first-person pronouns less, not more, than his modern predecessors.
Remember this BuzzFeed research from October?
BuzzFeed News analyzed more than 2,000 presidential news conferences since 1929, looking for usage of first-person singular pronouns – “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine,” and “myself.” Just 2.5 percent of Obama’s total news-conference words fell into this category. Only Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt used them less often. […]While Obama has shied from the first-person singular, he’s leaned heavily on the first-person plural – “we,” “our,” “ourselves,” and “us.” In fact, he’s used it more than any president in the dataset.
Yep, as we talked about at the time, the data suggests Obama is actually the least self-centered president in the modern era.
To be sure, the idea that the president’s pronouns have come under fire is emblematic of conservative criticism that’s spiraled to silly depths. Obviously, every president is going to take heat for nearly every decision, but Fox takes an interest in presidential pronouns, it suggests conservative media needs to pause for a deep breath.
But even if we take the entire line of attack seriously, the complaints are still wrong.