Monday, November 5, 2012

Politics Week: Presidential Linguistics, Part 2

Today we're continuing our look at U.S. presidents and their linguistic trademarks. Part 1 analyzed the speech of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower and JFK. Here's Part 2, starting with the namesake of one of the world's most popular gifts.

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt (a distant cousin of FDR) was known for being a rugged, masculine president. It was he who uttered the famous phrase "Speak softly and carry a big stick," which he later described in detail by saying that his style of foreign policy as president was "the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis." Sounds reasonable to us!


Despite this famous quote and the fact that he was included with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln on Mount Rushmore, he is still most famous as the namesake of the teddy bear. The story goes that back in 1902, President Roosevelt went on a hunting expedition with some friends, and most of the other men had killed an animal. For some ridiculous reason, a few of his attendants decided to club a bear and tie it to a tree... and then call him over to shoot it. He refused because it was "unsportsmanlike" but told them to put it out of its misery. A man and his wife saw a political cartoon depicting the event and decided to create a stuffed bear and name it Teddy with his permission... and the rest is history!

This political cartoon inspired the creation of the teddy bear.

Richard Nixon

"Tricky Dick" will probably not be remembered too much for the way he spoke but rather what he said. In the midst of the Watergate scandal, Nixon told the press that "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got." The following year, he resigned (before they could impeach him for his involvement) and was eventually pardoned by his replacement, Gerald Ford. The list of offensive statements he made throughout his life is nearly endless... quotes such as " I don't think a woman should be in any government job whatever. I mean, I really don't. The reason why I do is mainly because they are erratic. And emotional." Need we repeat more?

Ronald Reagan

One of Reagan's nicknames was actually "The Great Communicator". Perhaps his speaking skills came from his experience as an actor before becoming president. He was known for an uncanny ability to connect with the American people. He was also the oldest man ever elected president, and loved to crack jokes, such as "Thomas Jefferson made a comment about the Presidency and age. He said that one should not worry about one's exact chronological age in reference to his ability to perform one's task. And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying." It's always easier trust someone with a decent sense of humor!

Bill Clinton

Clinton was a man of many nicknames. Some Americans refer to him as "Bubba," a nickname occasionally used to refer to someone from the South, either endearingly or pejoratively. He was called "the first black president" due to his rapport with the African-American community and not the color of his skin, obviously. He was also another president who got into trouble for lying. His "I did not have ..." line will remain famous for eons, and earned him the nickname "Slick Willie." Despite his indiscretions, he is still well-liked due to the fact that he always seemed like a normal guy you'd want to watch the game and have a beer with.

Clinton playing a saxophone given to him by
Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Playing the saxophone
automatically gives a man cool points. 

George W. Bush

All the great things "Dubya" said during his presidency won't fit onto one post unfortunately. He was famous for the way he spoke, what he said, and what he said that he wasn't supposed to say. It would be a compliment (and a lie) to say he was a good public speaker. Despite growing up in New England, he always used a Texas drawl and had a "folksy" speaking style as a politician. Some people believe that he actively chose this accent to help voters relate to him instead of thinking of him as an "elite" son of a former president. Either way, that didn't mean he needed to say things such as "Rarely is the question asked,... our... is our children learning?" But don't misunderestimate him, he could occasionally string words together in a sensible order.

Barack Obama

The polar opposite of George W. Bush, Obama is known as a skilled orator. His impressive speaking skills are a large part of what earned him the Democratic Party's nomination four years ago. He didn't do so well in the first debate this year however, and is often criticized for having swayed the nation with the promises he made during his charismatic speeches and then not following through with them. Will he get his second term or will he be join the group of one term presidents?