CNN: Americans too stupid to comprehend Obama’s genius, or something

posted at 10:12 am on June 17, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Why did Barack Obama lay an egg with his Oval Office speech this week?  Most people assume that his failure to give any specifics on fixing the problem, his attempts to leverage the spill for his policy agenda, and his empty promises of yet another commission and a “czar” painted Obama as an empty suit far out of his depth.  CNN has a different analysis of Obama’s failure — that we’re out of his depth:

President Obama’s speech on the gulf oil disaster may have gone over the heads of many in his audience, according to an analysis of the 18-minute talk released Wednesday.

Tuesday night’s speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor. The Austin, Texas-based company analyzes and catalogues trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture.

Though the president used slightly less than four sentences per paragraph, his 19.8 words per sentence “added some difficulty for his target audience,” Payack said.

As it happens, I have some experience with reading-comprehension levels, from my days in the defense industry.  When writing technical manuals, we had to calculate (by hand in those days) the average reading level in order to satisfy contractual obligations with the various service branches.  Depending on the project and the target readership, those levels ranged between 8th- and 12th-grade levels. A grade level of 9.8 would have been about right for most of our projects, hardly qualifying as too intellectual.

It’s not easy to find data on the American average reading level.  A 1993 study put it somewhere between 8th and 9th grade reading level, which would have been just short of the 9.8 level found by CNN’s expert.  That seems rather low, however, when the US high school graduation rate was 69.2% in 2006.  Granted, not everyone who graduates from high school has a reading level commensurate with the 12th grade, but one has to assume that they do better than middle-school rankings in order to get a high-school diploma.

If they don’t, doesn’t that indict the education system?  We have steadily increased federal spending on education through the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.  If all that gets us is an electorate who mysteriously can’t comprehend a speech given at a writing level equivalent to that of an average 15-year-old kid, then we’ve spent money on the wrong things, and let the wrong people benefit from it.

Besides, there are other problems with this analysis.  Reading levels don’t directly equate to verbal comprehension, for instance, nor does it factor issues like delivery.  Mainly, however, the people criticizing Obama’s speech as wholly inadequate have at the least demonstrated a reading comprehension level above the high-school-freshman level, and have been criticizing it for substantive reasons.  They haven’t been standing around scratching their heads, trying to figure out the President’s vocabulary, and the attempt by CNN to pass it off as just too intellectual for the hoi polloi is both snobbery and ignorance, an amusing and illuminating combination.

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Radjah Shelduck

Bravo! Few vs. less.

Now, can we all pay attention to it’s vs. its?

Thank you.

francesca on June 17, 2010 at 9:03 PM

Irregardless, francesca, it’s a good post by Captain Ed.

andycanuck on June 17, 2010 at 10:16 PM

Yeah… Too smart for me… After all, the Pres is like Wile E. Coyote, SUUUUUUUUUPER GENIUS…

Khun Joe on June 17, 2010 at 10:24 PM

Perhaps as a fallback meme they can say that Obama’s incongruous hand gestures distracted everyone from the glowing brilliance of his excrutiatingly splendiferous verbiage.

I’m here to say.. that I’m going to say… something …about doing… something.”

Stunning stuff, if you know how to hear it properly.

profitsbeard on June 17, 2010 at 10:31 PM

Just another apologist shill. Ho Hum.

davo on June 18, 2010 at 12:38 AM

This is the President that got into College thanks to affirmative action. They surely cannot prove otherwise with his GRADES!

He’s not that smart.

scotash on June 18, 2010 at 1:21 AM

Here’s a picture of Barack Obama in Chicago teaching the principles of Saul Alinsky.

J_Crater on June 18, 2010 at 1:21 AM

I think I just got censored… oh my.

Is saying Obama got into College because of his ethnicity a bad thing? He surely didn’t have the grades to earn it.

scotash on June 18, 2010 at 1:28 AM

Uhhhhhhhhhh… What?

RalphyBoy on June 18, 2010 at 12:46 PM

Somehow I don’t think Obambi’s sesquipedalian verbage was that problematic to the average viewer.

What most anyone who’s actually had to work for a living figured out is this guy has no leadership skills at all.

In fact a growing percentage of people are starting to ask if these heavy handed use of regulation to stop every effort to clean up the GOM mess aren’t some kind of proof that this Administration actually wants this crisis to continue ad infinitum.

opusrex on June 18, 2010 at 1:39 PM

“let me be clear” is one of Obama’s favorite phrase. He then follows with a lie or two, almost always one syllable words. The problem is not the level. The problem is his serial lying.

proconstitution on June 18, 2010 at 8:39 PM

CNN is full of leftist elitist ignoramuses.

leereyno on June 18, 2010 at 9:15 PM

Spokesperson Robert Gibbs announced that the President would “Take Two”, and try the Oil Disaster speech again. “This time”, said Gibbs, “we’re going to use cave drawings and pictographs. And for the REALLY stupid people, the President is going to point and grunt.”

CNN, does anyone watch you except for the captive audiences of airports? How the hell did you pull that monopoly off?

olesparkie on June 18, 2010 at 10:23 PM

Way to go Ed. I too, wrote many military documents dealing with intricate plans and tactics necessary to carryout them out.

It was very difficult to write at the grade level recommended, because when writing you may or may not know the readers ability to read and if they can read the level of comprehension to carry our the tasks required.

You can not write instructions or plans in the following style, because it is not Politically Correct – See Spot. Spot is a dog. See Spot run. Spot runs fast. Spot needs marrow in bones to run fast. Shoot Spot before he reaches the bone.

Words=21, Paragraphs=1, Number of sentences=4, Words per sentence=5.2, Passive sentences=0%, Flesch reading Ease=100%, Flesch-Kincaid Grade level=0%

Nor could you write: “Canines love the marrow of bones and will spend hours gnawing on a bone to get all of the marrow it contains. However, the objective is to keep all marrow safe for others who need it maintain a normal lifestyle. Therefore, this plan is designed to insure that Canine are unable to obtain the marrow supply.

The marrow supply is located at ‘X’ and protected by triple fencing topped with Razor Wire, showing anyone passing by that the material contained within this elaborate fencing is important to National Security.

Current intelligence, has identified that Canine, in larger concentrations are located at ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. However, it is to be assumed that Canine exist elsewhere, whose location and number have yet to be determined.

By order of the President of the United States your objective is to prevent by whatever means possible, Canine from obtaining any amount of Marrow, the means include the authority to use ‘deadly force’ if necessary”.

Words=159, Paragraphs=4, Number of sentences per paragraph=1.7, Words per sentence=22.7, Passive sentences=0%, Flesch reading Ease=43.7%, Flesch-Kincaid Grade level=12.7%

The bottom line which instruction is the easiest to comprehend (understand) and carry out)?

MSGTAS on June 19, 2010 at 10:09 AM

It is indeed difficult to comprehend a speech that is essentially a content-free string of platitudes and hackneyed expressions.

drunyan8315 on June 19, 2010 at 4:19 PM

Comment pages: 1 2 3