June 14, 2008

McCain, Obama Describe Tim Russert-- And Themselves



mccain obama russert.JPG


TV journalist Tim Russert, from Meet The Press, died yesterday.

Both Obama and McCain delivered a short speech to the press, around the same time of day, and both did it outside at airports.

They used almost the same words.  So what was different?



First, think about what you might say if you were running for office and were asked to say a few words about Tim Russert.

Then, click on their names below to hear them speak their comments, or read the transcript provided:


John McCain:

Senator Lieberman and I would like to make a brief statement concerning the shocking news about the untimely death of a great journalist and a great American, Tim Russert.  Tim Russert was at the top of his profession, he was a man of honesty and integrity.  He was hard, but he was always fair.  We miss him, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, and we know that Tim Russert leaves a legacy of integrity of the highest level of journalism, and we'll miss him, and we'll miss him a lot.  Again, he was hard, he was fair, he was at the top of his profession, he loved his country, he loved the Buffalo Bills, and most of all he loved his family.

Barak Obama:

I've known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the convention in 2004.  He's somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist but a friend. There wasn't a better interviewer in TV, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics, and he was also one of the finest men I knew. Somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about family. I am grief-stricken with the loss and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And I hope that, even though Tim is irreplaceable, that the standard that he set in his professional life and his family life are standards that we all carry with us in our own lives.


Which one sounded more like you?   Why?


Let's look at it again:


McCain: (125)

Senator Lieberman and I would like to make a brief statement concerning the shocking news about the untimely death of a great journalist and a great American, Tim Russert.  Tim Russert was at the top of his profession, he was a man of honesty and integrity.  He was hard, but he was always fair We miss him, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, and we know that Tim Russert leaves a legacy of integrity of the highest level of journalism, and we'll miss him, and we'll miss him a lot.  Again, he was hard, he was fair, he was at the top of his profession, he loved his country, he loved the Buffalo Bills, and most of all he loved his family.



Obama:(118)

I've known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the convention in 2004.  He's somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist but a friend. There wasn't a better interviewer in TV, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics,   and he was also one of the finest men I knew. Somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about family. I am grief-stricken with the loss and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And I hope that, even though Tim is irreplaceable, that the standard that he set in his professional life and his family life are standards that we all carry with us in our own lives.





Both men used almost the same number of words: McCain 125, Obama 118.  The statements were similarly structured (in this order: opener, general description, description of professional life, expression of sadness and "thoughts and prayers,"  and then legacy.)  They were also similar in trigger words, though usually used only once or twice:

America/country: McCain 2, Obama 1
family: McCain 2, Obama 3
profession(al) McCain 2, Obama 1
(Remember, Obama said slightly fewer words.)

One word has an important divergence: the personal pronoun "I."  McCain uses it once (0.8% of his words), Obama 6 (5.1%).

You hear it in the style: McCain is telling you about Russert, Obama is telling you what Russert means to him.  Note the openings: McCain describes Russert, Obama describes his relationship with him.

Or how both describe his legacy.  McCain states it as a fact ("Tim Russert leaves a legacy of integrity") while Obama describes what it means to us ("And I hope that... the standard that he set... are standards that we all carry").

When McCain runs out of things to say at the end, and repeats himself in order to keep talking, what he falls back on is a description of Russert's attributes.  Obama begins with a fluent "I" but then searches for words to follow.  (For example, "I am...... grief stricken"; "I hope that.... even though Tim is irreplaceable")

There are a number of possible explanations for the disparity in the use of "I", including personal histories with the man (i.e. knowing him well or not knowing him at all), narcissism, context, statement prepared in advance, statement prepared by others, etc.  I am not judging either man's character, but if you consider that this is exactly what Presidents do-- as the embodiement of the spirit of America, frame an issue about which they may or may not personally have strong feelings -- then it is interesting to see the differences in the way they will do this.

Discuss.

(And I look forward to your all-caps hate mail.)


-----------

P.S. Similar analysis done on an anti-abortionist's writings.







Comments

Interesting, I interpreted ... (Below threshold)

June 15, 2008 3:22 AM | Posted by Nathaniel: | Reply

Interesting, I interpreted it more in the context of them each praising Russert in terms of the attributes they both value about themselves and their ideals.

To McCain, it was about his job, his integrity, his patriotism -- very much praising Russert as a man of professional standing and respect, only mentioning Russert's family in terms of extending sympathy. Recognizing him in terms of his traditionally masculine (and Republican) attributes.

To Obama, it was more about Russert's depth, his pursuit of knowledge and desire to be fair, as well as his effect on Obama personally, the larger community around him, and his family. More traditionally intellectual/social "feminine" (and Democratic) attributes.

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Actually, McCain used first... (Below threshold)

June 15, 2008 6:37 AM | Posted by Antidrugrep: | Reply

Actually, McCain used first person as often as Obama, just not first person SINGULAR. The first "I" was part of "Senator Lieberman and I" (clearly a "we"). He then used "we" another 4 times, and "our" once, clearly referring back to "Senator Lieberman and I". 1 + 4 + 1 = 6. What does this mean, he's more of a team player? Maybe it's a calculated reinforcement of his "bipartisan" credentials. Or maybe Senator Lieberman has nothing to do with the last 5 first person pronouns, and he just thinks of himself as royalty (e.g. "we are not amused").
Here's an idea: let's focus instead on how each candidate weighs in on the issues (gasp).
Here's another: let's pretend they aren't the only two people running for president (double gasp). Why do we assume they are? Why would any other candidate be a "wasted" vote?

Maybe not as interesting as the intellectual masturbation proposed by our host, but we ARE discussing POLITICAL candidates, not anonymous patients on Grand Rounds...

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McCain had more to suffer f... (Below threshold)

June 15, 2008 6:42 AM | Posted by Dr Shock: | Reply

McCain had more to suffer from Russert than Obama. I thought in the context of politics. But I might be wrong, I am an outsider, from "old Europe".
Also found the text of Obama more "feminin", more about his own feelings.
Regards Dr Shock

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An interesting analysis, bu... (Below threshold)

June 15, 2008 11:57 AM | Posted by Brooks: | Reply

An interesting analysis, but it is important to note that McCain's was a joint statement with Lieberman, as he makes clear in the first sentence. So it's only fair to count those we's, too.

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is Lieberman his running ma... (Below threshold)

June 15, 2008 3:42 PM | Posted by Mish: | Reply

is Lieberman his running mate or something? Or did they just happen to be together at the time? I found Obama's speech to be more personal and did not like when McCain just repeated himself. Just a gut reaction. I love your dissection of the speeches. MORE! thanks :)

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we is not the same as I. </... (Below threshold)

June 15, 2008 5:42 PM | Posted by Tim russert's dog: | Reply

we is not the same as I.

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I also think your I compari... (Below threshold)

June 16, 2008 1:29 AM | Posted by mu: | Reply

I also think your I comparison seems misleading.

I think that, as you pointed out, the relationship the men are giving themselves to Russert is more important. McCain views him at a distance, but misses him. 3 times, even. Obama claims that he was a friend (who doesn't want to be thought of as the friend of a hard-hitting journalist, at least, once they can't ask any more awkward questions?), and then talks about his inspiration.

I get from it that McCain is about respect, and Obama is about inspiration. More on that in a bit.

To go back to narcissism- are they describing the disappearance of an individual, or responding to "exeunt Tim stage left"? McCain describes him as a journalist, gives him genuine compliments, makes standard condolences, and then stalls. There's nothing else there except a repeat. McCain does know his favorite sports team- but who knows what that means. Obama describes the impact Russert had on him, makes the same, but better-worded compliments, makes standard condolences, and then...

Wait a minute. Let's read that last sentence again.

"the standard that he set in his professional life and his family life are standards that we all carry with us in our own lives."

So, Russert is the best analyst out there, but we're all also the best. Russert was a stellar journalist, but we're all also stellar at what we do. Or does he mean something entirely different by "we all carry [his standards] with us"?

So, McCain's talk boils down to- "Swell guy, sucks that he's gone. Damn shame. Swell guy."
Obama's boils down to- "This great man is a part of us, and we are less by his passing."
It doesn't matter who said what words more. What matters it what they focused on- Russert the person or Russert the impact.


I might as well end with an answer to your question- mine was like McCain's. Except without the repeat.

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Agreeing with Antidrugrep o... (Below threshold)

June 17, 2008 10:43 AM | Posted by April: | Reply

Agreeing with Antidrugrep on this one----who cares!! Breaking down statements to try to determine what the hidden meaning might be? Is this FOX News?

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Our election season goes on... (Below threshold)

June 17, 2008 9:58 PM | Posted by John J. Coupal: | Reply

Our election season goes on waaaay too long.

but, that's just I....or me.

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Alone's response: to ant... (Below threshold)

June 17, 2008 10:17 PM | Posted by Alone: | Reply

Alone's response: to antidrugrep and "Tim Russert's Dog"-- indeed, we is not the same as I. In fact, we is the exact opposite of I, if it is to be taken to reflect the person's perspective on life. Imagine Joe and his family go to the beach. "Joe, what did you do this weekend?" "Oh, I went to the beach." vs. "Oh, we went to the beach." Say it out loud to see the difference.

That said, I did not mean this to be an analysis of the candidates; I was taking advantage of a unique situation-- same topic, same day, same setting-- to show how one speaks reflects an inner perspective, but I am not here describing the causes of that perspective, or which is "better."

Think of it like this: why would two very different people use nearly the same number of words, and the same words, and the same themes-- in the same order? It can't be that the men are similar, so it must be something else that is similar (e.g. they are both running for President, and that makes them act/speak similarly.) And the differences in speech would be more indicative of personal characteristics.

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I find this take on the sit... (Below threshold)

June 19, 2008 4:30 AM | Posted by Diane Abus: | Reply

I find this take on the situation which you describe to be very interesting-the linguistics

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looks like they both have t... (Below threshold)

June 19, 2008 6:20 PM | Posted by Stephany: | Reply

looks like they both have the on camera, key word interview down.

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"the standard that he set i... (Below threshold)

June 20, 2008 1:47 AM | Posted, in reply to mu's comment, by phd in yogurtry: | Reply

"the standard that he set in his professional life and his family life are standards that we all carry with us in our own lives."

Mu, your quote left off the first part of Obama's statement. He said he HOPES that we all benefit from Russert's standards, carry them with us after witnessing Russert's professional and personal integrity. Very different than ascribing such high standards to all, as your post seems to assert.

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Reply to Alone's reply to m... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2008 3:41 AM | Posted, in reply to Alone's comment, by Antidrugrep: | Reply

Reply to Alone's reply to me - I mean, US - "Tim Russert's dog" and I, of course ;)

If I believed these two men's remarks were truly unguarded, I might agree with "we" being the opposite of "I". But I don't. They are political candidates, expecting to be caught in the spotlight, and achingly aware of the potential repercussions of even SLIGHTLY the wrong wording. You might convince me if these were stolen excerpts from private conversations with non-journalists. But they're not.
Obama might be truly humble, a real team player and inclined to think "we", but decides " 'I' sounds more personal, might better our chances come election day."
McCain might be the center of the known universe in his mind, but decides " 'we' makes me sound more humble and self-effacing, more like a team player. Might better my chances come election day."
Think of it like this: two candidates aiming for the same office, but with different self-perceived weaknesses in their respective public images, trying to broaden their appeal. The differences in their statements are as easily explained as the similarities by superficial goals they share.
Never underestimate the power of popularity contests to warp peoples' behaviour, and you will never be disappointed by that behaviour, Alone.
You ARE a practicing psychiatrist, right? ;)

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I am assuming McCain has ha... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2010 5:47 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I am assuming McCain has had at least one experience that taught him to use the words I and me sparingly in dialogue, and Obama has not. Otherwise, the two speeches are perfectly scripted and uncontroversial.

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How about this? -From the N... (Below threshold)

August 27, 2011 4:29 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

How about this? -From the NYT Sunday Book Review: "Regrettably, none of these pundits have bothered to look into how Obama might compare with his predecessors. But this kind of comparative word-counting is right up the alley of James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin. Toward the end of his penetrating new book, “The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us,” Pennebaker crunches the numbers on presidential press conferences since Truman and finds that “Obama has distinguished himself as the lowest I-word user of any of the modern presidents.” If anything, Obama has shown a disdain for the first-person singular during his administration.

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