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Diane Francis Headshot

Does Obama speak "American"?

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Obama is going to lose this election because he does not speak American.
He speaks English like Brits or Harvard professors. Their language is often passive, abstract, nuanced and cautious. American, by contrast, is characterized by its unique directness, toughness and action-orientation.

McCain-speak is American. Obama speaks English.

By the way, I'm not referring to vocabulary, educational level or eloquence. I'm referring to the tone as well as the ability to communicate to wide audiences in a plainspoken manner which is something that Americans do better than most.

Obama's failure to communicate with clarity has left him vulnerable to attacks as to his intellectual fuzziness, perceived elitism and lack of American-ness.
As a writer who straddles both English and American, here is my favorite example of the difference. A few years ago, a Canadian book was written called "Coping with Back Pain". It was translated into several languages faithfully but in the United States its title was changed to "Conquering Back Pain". Canadians, Brits and the rest of the world cope. Americans want to conquer.

In that light, here is my analysis of what's wrong with Obama-speak, drawn from excerpts from the televised interviews with preacher Rick Warren at Saddleback mega-church:

Question: What is America's greatest moral failing?

Obama's answer: "`Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me'. That applies to poverty, to racism, to sexism...there is a pervasive sense that as wealthy and powerful as we are, I still don't think we spend enough time thinking about that."
(This is the type of quotation-showing off that first-year liberal arts students do. That Biblical quote, from Jesus I think, is not widely known nor does its poetic nature resonate with the vast majority of Americans. It's also wordy.)

(Obama also flunks because he is too abstract, not concrete, by speaking about poverty, racism, sexism as though everybody agrees with the definitions. Then he throws out a guilt trip that Americans are not thinking about abstract stuff enough. No diagnosis, no prescription, no action plan.)

Compare McCain's answer: "I think that after 9/11, my friends, instead of telling people to go shopping, or take a trip, we should have told Americans to join the Peace Corps, Americorps, the military...we have not devoted ourselves to causes greater than our own selves."

Question: who are the three wisest people you would listen to?

Obama answered: His wife, his maternal grandmother in Hawaii and several Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
(What commander in chief consults his missus over advisors? Or his aged grandma? And who in the audience even heard of any of the lawmakers he named.)

McCain said: "General David Petreaus, civil rights leader John lewis and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, "one of these great economic success stories".

Question: Does evil exist and how to conflict it?
Obama answered: "Evil does exist. In Darfur, on the streets of our cities, in parents who abuse children, it has to be confronted."
(Confronted? What the heck does that mean?)

McCain responded: "Defeat it. Couple of points. One, if I'm President of the United States, my friends, if I have to follow him to the gates of Hell, I will get Osama bin laden and bring him to justice. I will do that and I know how to do it. I will get that done."

Question: When life of the unborn begins?

Obama: "Answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade"
(This is a disastrous response: He ducked the question, made an esoteric joke about the scientific/theological debate that no one gets and used the phrase "pay grade" like anybody knows what that means.)

McCain's succinctness comes through here: "The moment of conception".

Question: how would you define rich?

Obama: "more than $250,000 a year...the top 3 to 4%"
(Here the supposedly eloquent, thoughtful Obama recites tax code.)

McCain-speak is more pointed: "Some of the richest people I've ever known in my life are the most unhappy. I think the rich should be defined by a home, a good job, an education and the ability to hand to our children a more prosperous and safer world than the one we inherited."

By the way, I'm not talking about dumbing down or changing any messages or policies. I'm talking about the need for brevity and the type of pithy headline-grabbing soundbytes that the equally intellectual Bill Clinton mastered.

Instead, Obama's idea of attack is to challenge McCain to "dignify his campaign" -- a form of shaming that doesn't land a punch and is irrelevant.

Or he labels McCain policies as "just plain dumb" which also doesn't constitute a counter-punch. Worst of all, he dismisses the recent scurrilous claim that he's a closet Muslim as already discredited slander, but fails to fell the slanderer.

Obama had better learn how to KO by speaking in a language everybody can understand or the whole country will end up with four more years of the same. This is not about fighting dirty but about communicating properly.

American is not about footnotes, nuances or statements that can stand the test of peer review. It's about saying what you mean, even if people don't like it, and meaning what you say in plain and simple American.