This weekend, the Sunday morning chatterers bestowed their approval upon President-elect Obama's first press conference since his election. I was surprised, not so much because of what Obama said, but because of some of the words, the first person and the first person possessive, that he used time and time again. For a minute or two, if I had not known better, I would have imagined I was listening to Bush III in all his arrogance.
In his opening statement, Obama used the word "I" thirteen times. He used "my" five times -- once in reference to The Vice President, once in reference to the new Chief-of-Staff, in reference to the transition team, and once in reference to the Transition Economic Advisory Board he had just appointed. It sounded as if he thought he owned the people he selected or appointed to office -- and that's the way George Bush always sounded to me. And the way he acted towards most of his subordinates. (Not of course, including Vice President Cheney.) He threw in two "I'm"s and two "I've"s that didn't seem as annoying as the others.
Abraham Lincoln was able to get through the entire Gettysburg Address without using "I" once. John F. Kennedy, in his 1,366 word Inaugural Address used "I" only four times. Once as he took his oath of office, "For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago."; and three times when he promised to defend America, "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation." He used it to acknowledge and accept a burden, not to glorify himself.
It was a different Obama, with a different voice, that I heard on Friday. He appeared to be flip and full of himself. His wise crack about Nancy Reagan's séances would have been a scandal had it flowed from the mouth of poor Joe Biden, but Obama was spared much press comment. (He did later call Mrs. Reagan to apologize.)
Now is the time for Barack Obama to appear modest and humble in the wake of his great triumph. John Kennedy and Barack share a speech writer, Ted Sorensen. It was Sorensen who has been given credit for the inaugural address. Both Barack and Kennedy were great orators, able to change men's minds with words. Kennedy often used words written by Sorensen. I think it would behoove Obama to do more of the same. Modesty is a virtue, even if you don't have anything to be modest about.