Can’t we elect a President with chops in both?
What is it about this nation’s highest office? Why do we keep getting Presidents that seem to have problems (albeit to varying degrees) with the English language? No matter how smart these guys are, every one of them seems to struggle with simple grammar and vocabulary.
President Obama is just the latest guy to get the job who seems to have a few issues with his mother tongue. This time, two mistakes that I find particularly annoying are coming up: the use of “I” when “me” is correct, and disagreements between subjects and verbs. The President made the former mistake early in his first press conference with this comment:
“President Bush graciously invited Michelle and I to meet with him and first lady Laura Bush.”
Dude (check me out, all familiar with the President, calling him “dude”), it’s “Michelle and me”. You use “I” as a subject and “me” as an object. This is non-negotiable. It’s a common mistake though, and the general consensus seems to be that it stems from having been corrected as a young child: a kid might say “Stevie and me are going to play now”, and a parent might respond “honey, it’s Stevie and I” (to which my wise-ass kids might answer “no dad, you’re not playing with Stevie, I am” – which is just one more reason I love my kids).
But that’s a bullshit excuse. Either you know the correct usage or you do not. This particular mistake seems to be made most often by people trying to sound smarter than they are: you’ll hear it a lot in bad reality television for example (oh don’t get your knickers in a twist; I don’t think Obama is worried that the American people believe he’s stupid). It also happens when people think that using “me” just sounds wrong – which it kind of does, I suppose. If you don’t know better. Perhaps the President thought most Americans weren’t smart enough to know the correct usage (I fear that might actually be accurate – perhaps if we replaced those useless hotel-nightstand Bibles with “The Elements of Style” we could make some headway here), and didn’t want to sound wrong to them. Regardless, it’s still embarrassing.
Easily as bad is the subject/verb disagreement issue, which happens more than enough to have become irritating to me. For example, I heard the President say this during a recent G20 press conference:
“…each country has its own quirks and own particular issues that a leader may decide is really really important; something that is non-negotiable for them. “
Um, that should have been “…that a leader may decide are really, really important; some things that are non-negotiable for them”. The verb is referring the plural noun “issues”. The word “is” is singular. And while I know this isn’t an earth-shaking problem, he does it fairly often when answering questions off the cuff and it just bugs the shit out of me.
Overall though, when it comes to grammar and vocabulary, President Obama would certainly pass the simple test I suggest at the close of this piece, and he is admittedly a huge upgrade: a veritable Princeton English professor compared to other past Presidents (not to mention vice-Presidents), some of whom simply murdered the language. I won’t even bother with listing some of the spastic sentences Bush 43 puked into microphones over his eight years, because all I really need to say is one word: Nuke-you-ler. You fucking moron. Really. Wasn’t there one damn adviser on your staff that had the stones to tell you how fucking stupid you sounded every time that word worked its way past your frat boy smirk?
And Clinton….well let’s just say that Obama’s mistaken usage of the word “is” doesn’t compare to the fact that Clinton seemed not even to know the definition of the word. Nor, apparently, the definition of the phrase “sexual relations”. And he clearly misunderstood what cigar box meant.
Those are just a couple of examples from the the last three office holders; I’m sure there are plenty more. And really, you don’t even need to screw up a sentence to abuse the language. Lyndon Johnson deserves an honorary award for using the language when he just shouldn’t: he’d converse with his staff while taking a dump with the bathroom door open. No, I’m not kidding.
Where I live, you can’t get away from poor grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. The misuse of apostrophes is epidemic (as in: apostrophe’s), my son’s second grade teacher seems to be unaware that Austin isn’t just the name of a local dinner joint, and there’s actually a popular restaurant nearby called Nick’s Tomatoe Pie (no one caught that? Not the owner, the printer, the sign maker?). And yes, I’m aware that I too occasionally break some rules of grammar when I write (um…..creative license…every time, yes).
But I, for one, think that we ought to avoid electing anyone to the office of President or vice-President (don’t think I’ve forgotten about you Dan Quayle) that does not have a command of the English language at least equal to that of my twelve year old daughter.