People know that I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Politico, but this has to be a new low. Apparently, Politico did some quasi-analysis of Obama’s speeches, counting references to specific words. The outcome apparently is that “Obama’s words downplay wars.”
How on earth do you make the jump from the references to the word “war” to the fact that Obama is “downplaying” the issue? It really defies any sort of standard for intellectual rigor, even by Politico’s complete lack of respect for well…anything. I bet if you looked at President Bush’s speeches from 2001-2002 you wouldn’t find a whole lot of reference to “waterboarding” or “torture” but clearly you’d be a real rube to argue that the Bush administration was downplaying intelligence gathering. Of course there’s no mention of the issue that Obama isn’t trying to sell the wars in which were involved to anyone — we’ve already launched them. As such, most of the policy is handled outside of Congress. What would he be playing up, exactly?
So there’s that, but at even a cursory examination of the bubbles, you realize the analysis is even more contrived than it looks. For instance, if you add up national security topics like War, Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, Palestinian, Terrorism, Security, and Iran you get 2,566 mentions, which would come in second only to “America.” Obviously then, national security is not a topic that’s been “downplayed.” If I could pick one passage to epitomize the baffling level of stupidity in this piece though, it would be this one:
But the disparity in his choice of language between topics domestic and foreign — with every word uttered by a president carefully weighed and vetted — is so distinct that Republicans charge that it shows a predisposition toward downplaying the threats abroad, the ones that his predecessor George W. Bush faced.
“That tells you everything you need to know about the priorities of this administration,” says Marc Thiessen, a former chief speechwriter to Bush. “Clearly, President Obama has made health care a priority and the war on terrorism a lot less of a priority.”
By my count, there are several stupid assumptions here. One is the assumption that President Bush wasn’t “playing up” the fighting terrorists. How do we know that Obama isn’t at the right level and that Bush was too high? Second, why does mentioning the word “war” less than health care(again, national security topics rank quite high in aggregate) reflect Obama’s priorities? Can Obama not have a top foreign policy priority and a top domestic priority? And again, he doesn’t need to publicly sell a war policy that already existed. Lastly, how does the number of times a word appears in a speech evidence priorities? Doesn’t it just reflect what Obama thinks he has the most to gain by talking about? Doesn’t it also reflect what people have asked him about?