Comparisons

Comparisons

I got this email from a friend of mine:

“One thing that struck me last night was the irony of a candidate who relentlessly positions himself as a selfless servant of the nation (“I wasn’t my own man anymore. I was my country’s.”), and then allocates such a large share of his convention speech to talking about himself. I can understand the need for Sarah Palin to dedicate time in her speech to introduce herself to the nation, given that she was an unknown quantity on the political scene at that point (notwithstanding the frenzy of Google searches over the last seven days). But at 72, after a long career in Washington, after a widely-televised campaign, and at the end of a convention in which an entire day had been dedicated to answering the “Who is John McCain?” question, it seems a little unusual for McCain to use his most precious block of national TV airtime to essentially read aloud from his memoirs, saying comparatively little about the country or about his platform.

Here is an admittedly simplistic way of looking at it based on analysis of the full transcript of the speech found on his campaign website. There were a total of 271 sentences in the speech, not including the “thankyouthankyouthankyouallsomuchthankyou” before he started and the “joinmejoinmefightwithmejoinmefightwithme” bit in the final minute or so. Of those 271 sentences, a remarkable 147 (54%) were devoted to telling us about John McCain himself: his past accomplishments (“I fought crooked deals in the Pentagon”), his qualifications for the job (“I know how the world works”), his family and childhood (“When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house…”), his time as a POW (“On an October morning, in the Gulf of Tonkin…”), his patriotism (“My country saved me”), and so on. Another 8 sentences focused on Sarah Palin. This leaves only 116 sentences (43% of the speech) to discuss the topics that one might otherwise expect to constitute the majority of the speech: the state of the nation, his policy positions, future promises, differences between his positions and Obama’s, and so on.

The contrast with Obama’s speech is pretty dramatic if you go back and review the transcript of both speeches. Obama dwells almost exclusively in the realm of the state of the country, the future, what America is all about, key components of the platform, etc — only occasionally sprinkling in comments about himself and his family that help to provide context and credibility. Using a similar analysis of the 226 sentences in the speech, 35 are devoted to Obama himself and/or his family, or about 15% of the speech. More than a third of these came in a single section containing memories about his mother and grandparents (“These are my heroes.”)”

I went back and did the same exercise. I called a couple of cases differently, but ended up with about 50% of McCain’s sentences focussed on himself, but the same 43% on the state of the country, etc. I counted 14% of Obama’s sentences as being about himself; as those included all sentences about his wife and Joe Biden, there was no need to count those separately. The remaining 86% was about the country, his plans, and so forth.

For the record, both my friend and I excluded any claims about McCain and Obama that were about what they were going to do, however vague (e.g., a sentence like McCain’s “We’re going to change that” counts as a claim about the future, not a statement about McCain.) We counted only sentences that were about their present or past. The contrast was pretty striking, even more so when I read the speeches back to back.

A bit more after the fold.

To give a feel for how I was scoring things, here’s a bit from McCain’s speech that mixes up both kinds of sentences:

“Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. (ME)

That’s how I will govern as President.

I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again.

I have that record and the scars to prove it. (ME)

Senator Obama does not.”

From Obama’s:

“If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. (ME)

I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. (ME)

I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career in the halls of Washington. (ME)

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. (ME)

What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me.

It’s been about you.”

My sense is that this comparison overstates Obama’s role in his own speech. Thus, the following counts as ‘about Obama’:

“Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton’s Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill. (ME)

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships. (ME)

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed. (ME)

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. (ME)”

Without passages like that, the count would have been even more lopsided.

I adopted the (ME) tag to keep track of things, and only realized its potential for humor after the fact:

“I don’t mind a good fight. (ME)

For reasons known only to God, I’ve had quite a few tough ones in my life. (ME)

But I learned an important lesson along the way. (ME)

In the end, it matters less that you can fight. (ME)

What you fight for is the real test. (ME)

I fight for Americans. (ME)

I fight for you. (ME)”