The Obamas: When Grammar Gets Political
Filed under: Editor at Large,Politics,Spoken English — Casey

Obama pulled ahead of Hillary Clinton in the superdelegate count two days ago, and is poised to bag a major endorsement this evening in the U.S.

So when Edwards takes the podium after I’m fast asleep in Berlin, take a moment to consider Obama’s latest grammar mistake, memorably noted by Radio Free Mike.

The senator from Illinois distanced himself once and for all from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright during a press conference, with an even-tempered and eloquent kiss-off. However:

…he was somebody who was my pastor, and married Michelle and I, and baptized my children…

Ahem. That would be Michelle and me, wouldn’t it?

It’s not the first time that Obama has mixed up his pronouns. He seems to have a penchant for this particular error, one his wife, Michelle, has also made.

Michelle, on the other hand, has also done exactly the opposite:

Let me tell you who me and Barack are…

There is a telling difference between the mistakes being made here. While both of the Obamas made the same “for I” mistake, when talking about Reverend Wright, only Michelle made reference to “me and Barack” in a subject context and only then when refuting accusations of elitism.

If ever there was a mistake made by grammar elitists, the “for I” mix-up is it. Using a subject pronoun (“I”) when the context calls for an object pronoun (“me”) is over-correction, the result of hundreds of well-meaning grade-school teachers and bifocaled aunties reminding you that it’s not “me and Susie went to the bathroom” but “Susie and I.”

It’s interesting, then, that Michelle seemed to be aware of this class distinction in her own speech, saying moments later that she is the product of “a working-class upbringin[g].”

Obama, on the other hand, gets caught in the grammar mistakes of the elite. But what else is there, really, to ding him for? The man’s an outrageously eloquent speaker. Take a look at what else came out of his mouth at the press conference on the Wright debacle:

What particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks was somehow political posturing.

I gave an audible “wow” when YouTube-sized Obama spoke these words to me. When you get rid of the repetition, this is an impressively wordy statement to make off the cuff during a press conference.

Indeed, is it too impressive? Should Barack take a page from Michelle? I got laughed at in junior-high detention when I said I didn’t know the “procedure”. Hillary trounced Obama among working-class West Virginia voters yesterday—who can guess what the electorate will make of him and his verbosity in November?

8 Comments »

  • Gabriel said:  
    (On 14 May 2008 at 7:22 PM)

    I think we just expect too little from public speakers nowadays. In comparison to his antecedents of the early 20t century, Barack is profoundly underwhelming from a rhetorical standpoint. In point of fact the farther back one looks for reference, the more deficient he seems by comparison.

    I don’t particularly care for politics, but I’d register and vote for any politician who didn’t emulate television journalism by addressing the expected 7th grade education of the American public.

  • Ben said:  
    (On 14 May 2008 at 10:10 PM)

    “is it too impressive?”

    No. Well, maybe, but it won’t help him to do anything other than that. He can try to pretend he’s one of the country folk, but it won’t work: he’s got just a bit too much melanin to pull that one off.

    Authenticity matters. That, as much as any excuses Hillary and her people might want to make about gender bias, media bias, class bias, etc., or rather the lack of that, has absolutely killed her campaign.

  • Ben said:  
    (On 14 May 2008 at 10:14 PM)

    Also, South Park had a great example of Hilldawg’s lack of authenticity, especially when it came to her use of new accents in attempting to connect to the little people.

    Some other bits on Hillary…
    After New Hampshire: ““I found my own voice.” Well, at 60 years old you finally decided on a persona? High five, fraudbot.” (http://wonkette.com/342558/liveblogging-hillarys-incredible-victory-speech-from-nh)

    There was another one that couldn’t find that went along the lines of “and when she finds her voice in South Carolina it will have a distinct drawl”. You get the picture.

  • hh said:  
    (On 15 May 2008 at 12:59 PM)

    I went to see Obama in Bloomington and I didn’t notice any grammar slip-ups, but I did notice he mixed up numbers a couple of times.

    I don’t think the me vs. I thing is going to be too significant, in any case. I would hope the grammar elitists whom this would bother would be intelligent enough to base their political decisions on his policy and background rather than the way he speaks, and the working-class folk are going to be able to form their impressions of him from more in his speech and mannerisms than just that single usage.

  • Casey said:  
    (On 15 May 2008 at 6:03 PM)

    @Gabriel: I have been urged to write at no more than a 7th grade reading level when working on marketing texts in the past. If you want the people to buy what you’re selling…

    @Ben: I’m very stuck on this sentence: “He can try to pretend he’s one of the country folk, but it won’t work: he’s got just a bit too much melanin to pull that one off.” ???

    @hh: I agree with you that the me vs. I think should not turn out to be too significiant. It does illustrate an important point, however, which is that even the most eloquent and articulate politician is susceptible to grammar pitfalls. Just one more reason he should be reading my blog!

  • Gabriel said:  
    (On 15 May 2008 at 9:39 PM)

    I regret that there aren’t any businessmen like Walt Disney left in the USA. Now, Walt Disney was crazy and a bigot, but at least he was willing to alter the agenda of his company to reflect his own ideals. Efficiency wasn’t always the sole guiding principle of a person’s public life.

  • Annie Glimmerglass said:  
    (On 23 May 2008 at 9:56 PM)

    Stunning that Michelle Obama would say that. It’s the error about which I’m most peevish. Well, at least she didn’t say “Who me and him are…”
    Yikes. And you’re obviously implying that she did it on purpose. Yup, I’m inclined to agree, though I’m constantly surprised at who makes that error.

  • Raymond @ Spanish Language Grammar said:  
    (On 12 December 2009 at 2:11 AM)

    Its great to have a president who knows how to speak many languages. I don’t know if Obama knows how to speak Spanish and Chinese, those are wonderful and powerful languages

  • RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

    Leave a comment

    Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>