Thursday, June 17, 2010

Are the Masses Asses? Barack Obama's Oil Speech Rewritten to a Seventh Grade Level

Are the masses asses?

There is a deep tension in American politics between so-called "elites" and "real Americans." As a complement, there is a long tradition of anti-intellectualism in American life. The popularity of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the rise of the New Right all in some part speak to this cynicism and disdain--especially among the most populist conservatives--for the educated, "liberal classes."

In connecting the dots, the amateurish assault on higher education by the Texas and Arizona school boards, with their Orwellian whitewashing of American history, is also part of this populist disdain for expert knowledge. As detailed by Lee Harris in The Next American Civil War, much of the faux Right populism of the tea baggers and their enablers is based on some sense that Washington and "the godless liberals" are too far removed from the values and beliefs of "real" "everyday" Americans.

To turn a phrase, it would seem that stupid is the new (old) black and where the Idiocracy want to reign supreme.

The calls for Obama to be "angry" and to "show some emotion" are a cousin to this phenomenon. According to the pundit classes Obama is hamstrung by a crisis in communication. As opposed to being more like Adlai Stevenson, Obama ought to connect with the people as a "regular guy" cut from the same mold as George W. Bush and Joe the Plumber. Ultimately, education is a liability, for as smeared by Sarah Palin, Obama's credentials as a "constitutional lawyer" make him too much of a technocrat--an egghead and nerd of sorts--to relate to "real Americans."

From this worldview, solutions to the challenges faced by America overseas and abroad are best met with moxie, passion, and moral certitude. Not surprisingly, there would seem to be little room here for a nuanced approach to policy making either at home or abroad.

In keeping with this narrative, President Obama's speech on the Gulf Coast oil disaster is being greeted by some as too sophisticated and complicated for the "average" American to understand. As noted by experts featured on CNN, Obama's oil speech was written at a 10th grade level: What is apparently a pitch thrown too high for a public that (perhaps) has been dumbed down by a failed educational system, which views their role as citizens in a manner indistinguishable from that of consumers, and that has embraced a mantra that government is always a problem and never a solution.

It would seem that the public wants simple answers to complex problems. They want moral appeals, heroes and villains, and cut and dry solutions. If Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor is to be believed, the American people would like to be spoken to as though they are in the 7th grade--with few syllables, and in short sentences.

In keeping with his suggestions, what follows is my rewriting of President Barack Obama's speech on the Gulf Coast oil disaster at a grade level appropriate for the American people to understand. In closing, I must ask once more: Are the masses indeed asses?


President Obama's (Now Made Grade Level Appropriate) Oil Speech to the American People


The U.S. is in big trouble right now. People need jobs and more money. We are fighting bad guys who hate us in other countries. Our soldiers are doing a good job killing the bad people.

Now, I want to talk to you about the oil in the ocean down South. On April 20th an oil rig blew up. Too many people were killed. There was a big hole dug deep in the ground by the oil rig people. It started to leak oil out into the water. The water is really deep.

We have never had a hole dug that deep into the ground to get the oil out. BP, the big company that dug the hole doesn't know how to plug it up. I got scared. I then got on the phone and called up some smart people.

One of them is so smart he won a prize for his ideas. His name is Doctor Steven Chu. He works for me. He runs the Department of Energy. He is very bright.

The oil is like a big monster. It is evil. It is hard to cleanup. The oil is killing fish and birds. People who work on boats in the water can't make money. To fight the monster I told the navy to help. The smart people are going to dig another hole in the ground. With the BP folks they are going to soak up the mess like a big paper towel. I hope that the hole in the ocean will stop leaking in a few weeks.

The water is really sick. We may not be able to get it better for a long time. This is very bad for all of us. BP made this mess. They are going to pay to fix it. I am ordering them to give money to people who can't work because of the oil. BP is very bad. They did not act like they cared about making a big mess.

The BP people killed the nice people that worked for them. We need to make sure we know why the oil rig blew up. They dug a deep hole in the ground. They didn't even think about plugging it up. Now, we need to make a rule so that does not happen again. No more messes!

America uses too much oil. This is why BP dug a deep hole in the ground. America needs to get new energy. We will get smart people in a room who can figure out how to do this. I will talk to anyone who will be fair and play nice on this issue. I want good ideas. I do not care where they come from.

Each year the people who fish and live near the messed up water get together to pray for good luck. That is a good idea. The U.S. has God on its side. We will pray that this mess gets fixed.

Remember, we are a great country. We have lots of bad things going on now. But, the U.S. always wins. We will soak up the oil. We will kill the bad guys in those other places where they pray to the wrong God and want to blow us up. The economy will get fixed. God bless America.


Mrs. Chili said...

As a teacher (both high school and college English), I can attest to the seeming dumbing down of our culture. The most typical response to the critical work I expect my students to do is, "wait... you want me to THINK?! For MYSELF?! You're not going to just tell me what it all means?!"

I celebrated when Obama was elected for a number of reasons, but I'm not going to lie and tell you that the fact that he could string together a number of complex, coherent sentences (and not invent his own words in the process) wasn't a welcomed relief. I had been yearning for a smart man to occupy the White House, and Obama's election was huge for me and my colleagues.

I think your assessment of our current social and political situation is pretty much right on. I'm doing the best I can to teach the current batch of young people about critical thinking and analysis, but I'm only getting them 25 at a time...

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Smart way of framing this.

jim said...

i'm skeptical of the so-called "experts" analyzing the speech.

the global language monitor guy cites statistics like:

19.8 words per sentence
4.5 characters per word

first of all, the latter statistic is utterly meaningless in every significant way. "heart" and "hart" are homophones, but which is a higher-grade word?

the former statistic is worthless, too. as one commenter at the ever-wonderful language log points out, books like "the berenstain bears" often clock in at 20+ words in sentences. clearly too advanced for the american public.

the economist got it right, here, about payack in particular: this is just confirmation bias.

Bryan said...

Your speech rendition is hilarious. It definitely is on point though. Honestly, I think even kindergartners should be able to understand the way you broke it down, lol. Good post.

Linkmeister said...

I came for the speech's source, but I admire the sentiments of your thesis even more. Thanks.

ExpatDude said...

I ran this through a Flesch-Kincaid program and it shows as a 2nd grade reading level.

I ran Obama's original speech as well and it was a pathetic 9th grade level.

So there you go, the great people of the US, self proclaimed best educated in the world, aren't capable (the majority of them at least) of understanding anything more complex than pre-teen level vocabulary, grammar and syntax.

Makes you proud to be an American!

Anonymous said...

I know Crocs that live next door to "Zeeba" who still not get this speech, but Hulk do,Hulk understand much now.

Anonymous said...

Too many kids are raised to believe

instead of think and question.

Holy Book regurgitation is the ideal.

All you need is a memory.

MoeMasters said...

Absolutely BEAUTIFUL (that means "good job, cowboy!" just in case there are some 3rd graders lingering about here.
Am now going to share and re-post so I've got friends sitting right by me to discuss this with.
Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

Obama is as eloquent as his teleprompter and writers make him. Take away the teleprompters and see what comes out, BS!

macon d said...

More spot-on satire. You should a get syndicated column so you can better mess with The Discourse.

I sure do hope that the big bad hole in the deep blue ocean gets plugged up soon.

Anonymous said...

GW Bush used a teleprompter and never sounded eloquent. The BS came out anyway.

Improbable Joe said...

When I was a kid I tested at a 12th grade reading level from the time I was 8 or 9 years old. I used to think that meant I was super smart. Now I know it just means that most people are barely literate.

Anonymous said...

Firemen put out the fire first and then figure out what went wrong and change what needs to be changed after the event so it might not happen again for the same reason(s). Maybe that should be the direction to head on this ecological crises instead of the reverse direction that the administration was spending the majority of the time on the other night. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

How many really believe that Obama writes his own speeches anyway? Get real 10th graders or even 12th graders...What he says is written fro him and all he does and recite the words given to himn to say to the public, no matter what the education involved.

Anonymous said...

"Take away the teleprompters and see what comes out, BS!"

You mean like when he handed the republicans their tail during that Q&A?

Anonymous said...

Rachel Maddow- The more spills change_ the more they stay the same

How many have seen Rachel Maddow compare this 2010 gulf oil spill to the gulf oil spill of 1979?
June 1979 (and the gas shortage).
I guess no one told Obama about the last Gulf oil spill.

btw, How many of you have seen "Knowing?" The 1st scene of the Nicholas Cage 2009 film (Nick is in a series of NWO films, next is "Sorceror's Apprentice)can be found on youtube:

Watch it. See that the exact same oil rig explosion is in the 1st scene of this 2009 film.

How many of you now think that this oil rig explosion wasn't planned?

The 1st scene is exactly what happened on 4/20/10. The rig was imploded, just as WTC blgs were imploded by our govt.