Obamateurism of the Day

NPR asked 4000 of its listeners to pick the word they remembered the most from Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, and was it “investments”? “Fiscal responsibility”? “Jobs”? Not exactly. Thanks to a joke he told during the speech, the single most remembered word among NPR listeners was … “salmon.” That was true of listeners regardless of party affiliation.

At least the joke had a serious point, right? Well, maybe, but as Seattle Times explains, the point was essentially incorrect:

During a portion of the speech dedicated to reorganizing government, Obama highlighted what sounded like government redundancies. He mentioned that 12 federal agencies deal with exports and five “entities” deal with housing.

And he followed those statements with this: “Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in freshwater, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

The line was a hit — perhaps too big a hit. When National Public Radio after the speech asked 4,000 listeners to describe in three words what they recalled from the president’s hourlong address, the most frequently mentioned word was “salmon.”

But Obama’s description wasn’t even entirely accurate. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency within Interior, manages most endangered species and owns and operates nine hatcheries in Washington. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, an agency within Commerce, runs virtually every aspect of salmon management regardless of whether they’re at sea or in a river.

And if the president’s point was that salmon involves more than one agency, he really missed the mark.

As it turns out, salmon management is complicated, but those complications have nothing to do with whether they’re fresh water or salt water salmon.  It has to do with the multitude of federal bureaucracies governing land and water use within the State of Washington — which sounds like a good reason to get rid of several of these interventions.  In any event, no one is taking Obama seriously on this subject:

David Montgomery, for one, thinks that’s probably good.

“It makes for a better joke than it does an idea,” said the University of Washington professor and MacArthur Award recipient[.]

As do most of Obama’s policies.

Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.

Illustrations by Chris Muir of Day by Day. Be sure to read the adventures of Sam, Zed, Damon, and Jan every day!