Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Let Me Be Clear

Those four words are President Obama's favorite verbal tic. Ben Feller at ABC News noticed:

Presidents talk so much in public that is not surprising to find rhetorical patterns. Although Obama is known for a flair with the written and spoken word, his hardest mission is often to make complicated matters relevant to the masses.

So clarity, it seems, is of the highest order.

Terrorists? "Now let me be clear: We are indeed at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates."

Student testing? "Let me be clear: Success should be judged by results, and data is a powerful tool to determine results."

Iran? "Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies."

Auto bailouts? "Let me be clear: The United States government has no interest in running GM."

The president takes the phrase everywhere.

In Moscow: "Let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia."

In Ghana: "Let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at perpetual war."

In Italy, bemoaning poor U.S. leadership on climate change: "Let me be clear: Those days are over."

In Trinidad, announcing new aid: "Let me be clear: This is not charity."

Here's my question: do you think that the President is being clear in his intentions? And if you insert the word "perfectly" in between "be" and "clear," don't you hear the voice of another president from about 40 years ago, as one of Professor Reynolds's commenters pointed out here?


(H/T: Instapundit)


Night Writer said...

When somebody uses a rhetorical device like that for emphasis I usually expect that the next clause is likely the opposite of what is being said. Sometimes it's just a verbal tic that the speaker is barely aware of; other times it's meant to be verbal sleight of hand.

People who don't lie, for example, typically don't even consider the possibility of lying, so when someone says to me, "I'm not going to lie to you..." I expect the next words to be at least half a lie. It also makes me want to ask, "Oh, have you been lying up until now?" Similarly, people who go love helping people usually don't have to tell you "I love people"; their actions speak louder than their words.

Except now, of course, when intentions speak louder than words (even when those intentions are betrayed by the words that are supposed to cover them up).

my name is Amanda said...

Let's not forget some of his more nefarious instances of being clear: "Now, let me be clear," Obama said in March, before Bo the dog arrived. "I don't have anything against dog parks."

I think it's a (slightly annoying) tic, and it comes from an honest desire to speak openly with the American people. He ought to use that specific phrase sparingly however, as sometimes he is saying something clearly (I don't believe that the government wants to run GM at all) and sometimes he's not. Who would argue that success should be judged by results? Or that data helps determine results? I'm not old enough to have listened to President Nixon, but the latter example reminds me more of Bush Jr. - using word definitions and facts about life that no one would argue with instead of actually talking about the issue. Although I'm sure he got around to it later in the speech.

I don't have any disagreement with what NW says about rhetoric and lying, though.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

"it comes from an honest desire to speak openly with the American people"

It is admirable to assume the best of someone else's motives.

K-Rod said...

Clearly it is "from an honest desire to speak openly with the American people."

Shouldn't that be sheeple?

Americans? Pffft Wasn't Obama clear when he claimed he is a citizen of the world?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
"an honest desire to speak openly"
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Behold the blind adoration toward the Obamassiah!!!

K-Rod said...

No offense, but this Grumpy Old Man just couldn't stop himself from commenting. ROTFLMAO

Mr. D said...


I'm sure Amanda is sincere.

Someday well into the future, once the Obama era is long over, the key description of the man will have been Jim Geraghty's, who offered the wisdom that every Obama promise has an expiration date.

Dan S. said...

Echoing NW, I've made the same observation. When Obama says, "let me be clear...," we can expect what follows to obscure the point at hand.

My personal favorite is when he begins a statement with, "As I've always said..." You can bet what follows will be a drastic change from a previously stated position.

Right Hook said...