Obama’s changing pronouns

I pointed out in an earlier post that first-person pronoun use is a signal for warmth and openness, and that Obama uses such pronouns at very low rates — much less often than Clinton and McCain.

This is changing. Here is an extract from a speech on February 13th (first-person singular pronouns in red):

It was nearly a century ago that the first tractor rolled off the assembly line at this plant. The achievement didn’t just create a product to sell or profits for General Motors. It led to a shared prosperity enjoyed by all of Janesville. Homes and businesses began to sprout up along Milwaukee and Main Streets. Jobs were plentiful, with wages that could raise a family and benefits you could count on.

Prosperity hasn’t always come easily. The plant shut down for a period during the height of the Depression, and major shifts in production have been required to meet the changing times. Tractors became automobiles. Automobiles became artillery shells. SUVs are becoming hybrids as we speak, and the cost of transition has always been greatest for the workers and their families.

But through hard times and good, great challenge and great change, the promise of Janesville has been the promise of America – that our prosperity can and must be the tide that lifts every boat; that we rise or fall as one nation; that our economy is strongest when our middle-class grows and opportunity is spread as widely as possible. And when it’s not – when opportunity is uneven or unequal – it is our responsibility to restore balance, and fairness, and keep that promise alive for the next generation. That is the responsibility we face right now, and that is the responsibility I intend to meet as President of the United States.

We are not standing on the brink of recession due to forces beyond our control. The fallout from the housing crisis that’s cost jobs and wiped out savings was not an inevitable part of the business cycle. It was a failure of leadership and imagination in Washington – the culmination of decades of decisions that were made or put off without regard to the realities of a global economy and the growing inequality it’s produced.

It’s a Washington where George Bush hands out billions in tax cuts year after year to the biggest corporations and the wealthiest few who don’t need them and don’t ask for them – tax breaks that are mortgaging our children’s future on a mountain of debt; tax breaks that could’ve gone into the pockets of the working families who needed them most.

One “I”!

Now look at this extract from February 24th:

Our economy has been struggling for some time now. And as I‘ve traveled across Ohio, I‘ve seen the face of this economy – a mother who told me she can’t afford health care for her sick child; a father who’s worried he won’t be able to send his children to college; and seniors who’ve seen their pensions disappear because the companies they gave their lives to went bankrupt.

I don’t have to tell you about this. Folks around here have been directly impacted by the changes in our economy – whether it was the loss of steel jobs over the past few decades, or the closing of the Ford plant that was here for so long. And folks in this area are still worried about whether they’re going to lose their jobs and how they’re going to make ends meet if that happens.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that we can’t stop globalization in its tracks and that some of these jobs aren’t coming back. But what I refuse to accept is that we have to stand idly by while workers watch their jobs get shipped overseas. We need a president who’s working as hard for you as you’re working for your families. And that’s the kind of President I intend to be.

I‘ve proposed a job-creation agenda that starts with making sure trade works for American workers. We can’t keep passing unfair trade deals like NAFTA that put special interests over workers’ interests.

Now, Senator Clinton has been going to great lengths on the campaign trail to distance herself from NAFTA. Yesterday, she said NAFTA was “negotiated” by the first President Bush, not by her husband. But let’s be clear: it was her husband who got NAFTA passed. In her own book, Senator Clinton called NAFTA one of “Bill’s successes” and “legislative victories.”

And yesterday, Senator Clinton also said I‘m wrong to point out that she once supported NAFTA. But the fact is, she was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for President. A couple years after it passed, she said NAFTA was a “free and fair trade agreement” and that it was “proving its worth.” And in 2004, she said, “I think, on balance, NAFTA has been good for New York and America.” One million jobs have been lost because of NAFTA, including nearly 50,000 jobs here in Ohio. And yet, ten years after NAFTA passed, Senator Clinton said it was good for America. Well, I don’t think NAFTA has been good for America – and I never have.

This represents a huge shift in word usage — a much more direct presentation of himself. It’s hard to know what to make of this. Perhaps he read some of my earlier commentary 🙂 or perhaps he feels much more strongly about the content of the second speech, and so let’s more of himself come through (although the content doesn’t seem too different).

Notice that his usage of “we” hasn’t dropped much. Usage of first-person singular and first-person plural pronouns has tended to be independent in the datasets we’re studied.

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