Outside of stand-up comedy, has there ever been a speaker more self-referential than Barack Obama? Not even Donald Trump seems quite as wrapped up in himself in public speeches, at least not to make three hundred and ninety-two references to himself during a speech. Grabien put together a mash-up of me moments from Obama’s speech to a Berlin audience on behalf of the Obama Foundation, which ostensibly focused on “community leadership and civic engagement.”
Obama’s focus was on Obama, at least from the four-plus minutes of references to himself:
Here’s the breakdown of his personal pronoun use (based on a rush transcript of the event):
- “I” — 274
- “Me” — 25
- “My” — 31
- “I’d” — 9
- “I’m” — 41
- “Myself” — 7
- “Obama” — 5
The former president’s comments began on his favorite topic: himself.
“It’s been over ten years since I spoke to a slightly larger crowd in front of the Victory Column when I was running for president,” Obama said to a notably quiet crowd. “I had a little less gray hair then. And since then I’ve been back to Germany I think at least ten times. I’ve been to Europe countless times. But I’m as excited to be here with you as I have been ever when I’ve come to Europe.”
He continued in the same vein: “When I left office, or maybe a few months before I left office, I had to make some decisions about what I would do after the end of my presidency and I knew that I wanted to catch up on my sleep — I had to take Michelle on vacation. She deserved it, putting up with me for that long. But we also knew that our service wasn’t yet done. I was one of the youngest presidents to be elected, which meant I was one of the youngest ex-presidents. And I asked myself, ‘All right, what’s the next thing that I can do to make the biggest impact, the most difference?’ And there were a whole range of issues that I cared deeply about, many of which you work on.”
American Thinker’s Thomas Lifson postulates that retirement might be getting the best of Obama. Watching Trump reverse his policies and dismantle some of his pen-and-phone programs has to be “hard on his self-esteem. … So what’s a comparatively young (age 57) man with decades of life ahead to do to compensate?”
Putting together a foundation isn’t a bad first step, but it’s tough to succeed at that when its purpose seems to be servicing your own ego. Ask the Clintons how that worked out for them, although to be fair their foundation was successful at its primary purpose: to keep Hillary Clinton’s campaign team gainfully employed until the 2016 election cycle. Its supposed “civic engagement” had more to do with recapturing the White House, which is why it’s collapsed since her big loss three years ago. Its mission has ended.
Obama could look to Jimmy Carter for better inspiration, at least in the first stages of his post-presidency. For the first decade or so, Carter focused on raising funds for helping others and putting the spotlight on them. Later his ego got in the way and Carter spent the last 30 years or so interfering in American foreign policy, sometimes with disastrous consequences as in North Korea. Carter never made himself the subject matter of his speeches, though, a humility that Barack Obama doesn’t grasp — but Obama is hardly alone these days in that failing, although on numbers he seems to be leading the pack for now.
On the other hand, he’s still a rookie at the former-president gig, so perhaps we can look forward to Obama dialing it down in future speeches … maybe to under a hundred self-references.