Karl Rove thinks that the President is too self-centered. Or something. Contextually, it’s difficult to know what about that number he thinks is important, other than the fact that we all know now that he can count the number of words in a text. I’d have liked some follow-up information, but I think that fruit wasn’t low-hanging enough for his stubby hands to grasp.
Fortunately, I did some number-crunching for him. President Obama did, indeed, say “I” 96 times in his State of the Union speech Wednesday night. This is contrasted with President Bush, who kept it at 32 occurrences during his first State of the Union (the link Karl Rove used may not have been counting lexemes, such as “I’m” or “I’d”). The percentage of words between the differing speeches (Obama’s was 7,184 words, Bush’s 3,785) was 1.33% “I” for Obama, and 0.86% for Bush, or a difference of 0.47%. It was definitely an increase of almost 55% in the frequency of that word, but we’re still talking about less than 2% of the speech, assuming “I” is an equivalently powerful word as, say, “mandate” or “bailout.”
But I noticed something else that was interesting. Bush’s percentage of selfishness-induced verbiage decreased over the course of his Presidency. That’s not because he talked about himself less, but because he talked about other things more. While his first State of the Union speech clocked in at 3,785 words, his later ones were all above 5,000, and yet his “I” incidence remained at a steady average of 33, going for its zenith his last year at 37 times.
Given that it’s important to at least one person, I wonder if there was a busy little highlighter in the weeks before the previous President’s addresses, going through and counting the appearances of “I” and yelling at his cohorts to remove them. I won’t name names about whose highlighter I think it was. It does make sense, though: rhetoric about “our” country certainly feels like it should sell better than that about “my” country, especially with the President.
Tangentially, President Bush used, on average, 24 lexemes of “terror” (“terror,” “terrorism,” “terrorist(s),” “terrified,” and “terrorized”) in his speech. He talked about “terror” 73% as frequently as he talked about himself, compared to President Obama, who only did so 3% as much. He said “terrorism” once and “terrorists” twice. Take from that language lesson what you will.
As always, feel free to check for yourself: