People have long wondered how dependent Barack Obama has been on affirmative action. Both in college and as president Obama’s writings and comments give the impression that he is in over his head. There not only are the obvious gaffes (such as Obama stating the US has 57 states) but Obama seems to lack a basic understanding of English grammar. Jack Cashill recently pointed out a letter Obama wrote to Harvard Law Review defending affirmative action:
The response is classic Obama: patronizing, dishonest, syntactically muddled, and grammatically challenged. In the very first sentence Obama leads with his signature failing, one on full display in his earlier published work: his inability to make subject and predicate agree.
“Since the merits of the Law Review’s selection policy has been the subject of commentary for the last three issues,” wrote Obama, “I’d like to take the time to clarify exactly how our selection process works.”
If Obama were as smart as a fifth-grader, he would know, of course, that “merits … have.” Were there such a thing as a literary Darwin Award, Obama could have won it on this on one sentence alone. He had vindicated Chen in his first ten words.
Although the letter is fewer than a thousand words long, Obama repeats the subject-predicate error at least two more times. In one sentence, he seemingly cannot make up his mind as to which verb option is correct so he tries both: “Approximately half of this first batch is chosen … the other half are selected … ”
Another distinctive Obama flaw is to allow a string of words to float in space. Please note the unanchored phrase in italics at the end of this sentence:
“No editors on the Review will ever know whether any given editor was selected on the basis of grades, writing competition, or affirmative action, and no editors who were selected with affirmative action in mind.” Huh?
The next lengthy sentence highlights a few superficial style flaws and a much deeper flaw in Obama’s political philosophy.
“I would therefore agree with the suggestion that in the future, our concern in this area is most appropriately directed at any employer who would even insinuate that someone with Mr. Chen’s extraordinary record of academic success might be somehow unqualified for work in a corporate law firm, or that such success might be somehow undeserved.”
Obama would finish his acclaimed memoir, Dreams from My Father, about four years later. Prior to Dreams, and for the nine years following, everything Obama wrote was, like the above sentence, an uninspired assemblage of words with a nearly random application of commas and tenses.
Unaided, Obama tends to the awkward, passive, and verbose. The phrase “our concern in this area is most appropriately directed at any employer” would more profitably read, “we should focus on the employer.” “Concern” is simply the wrong word.
Scarier than Obama’s style, however, is his thinking. A neophyte race-hustler after his three years in Chicago, Obama is keen to browbeat those who would “even insinuate” that affirmative action rewards the undeserving, results in inappropriate job placements, or stigmatizes its presumed beneficiaries.
And now the Washington Times reports on a new book, Obama Grammar: Using the President’s Bloopers to Improve Your English, by William Proctor:
Here comes “Obama Grammar: Using the President’s Bloopers to Improve Your English,” a new book that parses Mr. Obama’s command of the language, or lack thereof.
“The first wordsmith is, in fact, an occasional stem-winder who is grammatically challenged,” says author and Harvard-educated historian William Proctor, who pored over 3,000 pages of the president’s official speeches and remarks. He’s convinced that Americans — particularly students — can learn a little something from Mr. Obama.
“His speeches reveal that at this point, he is simply not in the same rhetorical-grammatical league as a Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan,” Mr. Proctor says. “Even as we explore Mr. Obama’s errors, we should not lapse into smug, finger-pointing complacency. His mistakes should serve as a reminder to the rest of us that we, too, may need to clean up our technical language skills.”