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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

 

Obama's final narrative: A negative mélange of historic proportions

Obama's final narrative: A negative mélange of historic proportions

Paul JJ Payack
11/01/10 12:48 PM ET

The final narrative for President Obama, 24 hours before the midterm elections has evolved into a negative mélange of historic proportions.  This was reported by the Global Language Monitor (GLM), which has been tracking the narratives that have dominated the perception of the administration and its handling of both its achievements and crises. 

In July, the President’s five most prominent narrative arcs included being out-of-touch or aloof; being responsible for the ever-increasing deficit; not responding with enough vigor or authority to the Gulf Oil Spill; the victory of pushing through Healthcare Reform; and gaining a reputation as a Chicago-style pol.  The President’s Oval Office Address on the Gulf Oil Spill seems to have been the temporal demarcation point between a positive or negative narrative carrying over into the 2010 Mid-term Election.  Since that time there are many who contend that Obama’s narrative has been shaped by forces largely out of his control. And indeed, this may be true.

In the following months no single narrative has risen above the others; on the contrary the five Obama Narratives have largely blended into a largely negative, yet muddled, story line.  The result has been an admixture of these five narratives, resulting in an unfortunate amalgam for the president and his party to overcome.

GLM has also been tracking political buzzwords for the last three election cycles. An analysis of the Top Buzzwords of the Mid-Term Elections completed yesterday, and published in a separate release, lend support to these conclusions.

Below is a list of the Obama narratives that have evolved through the last year.

1.     Obama as out-of-touch or aloof

This has only grown stronger over time.  Professorial has now been added to the mix, which is often considered condescending by certain academic communities.

2.     Obama and the deficit

Words linking Obama to deficit have steadily increased as those linking Bush to the deficit have declined.

3.     Obama and the Oil Spill

The completion of the relief well apparently did not provide the president with relief from the issue.  In fact, the President now has more negative ties to the Katrina inundation of New Orleans than George W. Bush.

4.     Obama as HealthCare Reformer

The president’s signature achievement has been largely avoided by members of his party for fear of the overall negative reception to the program adversely affecting their personal chances of (re-)election.  The mistake is explain away the frustration with how the bill was passed, where many had a first-hand look at congressional (and presidential) wheeling dealing as it best (or worst).

5.     Obama as the Chicago-style pol

This usually conveys the ability to make things happen -- though in a stealthy, force-your-hand manner reminiscent of the days of cigar-filled back rooms.  Even this has been undone by the ongoing public perception of Obama's seeming inability to get things done (in spite of the things he actually did).

GLM has been tracking political language for the last three election cycles   As we have detailed over the last two years, while in the midst of the positive media frenzy of the election and inauguration, we were already finding the elements of anger and outrage as one of the highest on record.    At that time, GLM examined the global print and electronic media for the seven days after the following events:  the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the start of the Iraq War, and the week after the Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, and the awarding of the AIG bonuses.

The ranking of ‘outrage’ found in the media was surprising, even startling.
   1. The AIG Bonuses, 2009
   2. The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001
   3. Hurricane Katrina and the Inundation of New Orleans, 2005
   4. The start of the Iraq War, 2003

During the last several months our analysis shows that anger and rage largely have been replaced by frustration and disillusionment.    In fact, our continuing NarrativeTracker analysis has found what appears to be a major disconnection between what is reported in the media and what is being discussed in Social Media and the rest of Cyberspace.  This includes a number of Media Memes that resonant among the media.  For example:

1.     Outrage in the Electorate

To a large extent, the rise of Outrage in the electorate (accompanying the AIG bonuses) was overlooked while the focus was on the ebullience accompanying the Obama election and Inauguration.  Only this year have ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ become a focus -- while the citations show that the electorate has moved beyond this Media Meme to ‘disappointment’ and ‘frustration’.

2.     The Great Recession

The electorate makes no distinction between Recession and Great Recession.  In fact, the Great Recession Media Meme is found to be used only in the elite media, while the electorate seems to believe that something far larger is taking (or has taken) place.  The analysis shows the underlying belief to be that that economy has undergone a structural change that will take years to mend, if ever. (They knew this when Bush tried to explain why the US, according to traditional definitions, was not yet in a recession, and again know this as today's economists try to explain how the Great Recession is now over because we grew 2 percent in the last fiscal quarter).

3.     The Idea of Insurgency

The consensus is that there are now about one hundred, or fewer, congressional seats in play, which means that some 77 percent of the seats are basically locked in.  The idea of insurgency makes great headlines (and ensures a plethora of more great headlines as the future unfolds).  But the fact remains that a minimal number of congressional seats are now in play.

4.     The Tea Party

Tea Party ‘members’ have turned out to be older, better educated, and far more influential than their originally portrayal.  If the war in Afghanistan is fighting the last wars (the Surge in Iraq and the Vietnam ‘quagmire’ then viewing the Tea Party as anything other than a grass roots movement, was a mis-reading of the Obama ‘insurgency’ of ’07 and ’08.

5.      The 24-hour News Cycle

The 24-hour news cycle is true only insofar as the headlines constantly shift.  But the deeper currents are a much more prevailing force that apparently actually drive and shape events.  Focusing on the swirling froth of the ever-changing headlines, allows many to miss the structural changes that are occurring below – much like a tsunami is only apparently when the submerged wave finally hits the shoreline.

Paul JJ Payack is the rresident and Chief Word Analyst at The Global Language Monitor in Austin, Texas.


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