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Friday, February 22, 2008

The “You know” Report: Texas Democratic Presidential Debate

Due to the incessant worldwide coverage of the presidential campaign in the United States, I happened recently to hear some clips from a recent “debate” between the two remaining contenders for the Democratic nomination. Letting, as usual, the platitudes, demagoguery, and policy nostrums slide right past my ears, what struck me is just how inarticulate these people are, especially considering that they are graduates of the two top-ranked law schools in the United States, members of the so-called “world's greatest deliberative body”, and one of whom is celebrated for his silver-tongued eloquence. In particular, I noted that both Clinton's and Obama's extemporaneous speech were afflicted by that characteristic verbal tic of the boomer and subsequent generations, the incessant injection of “you know” into statements which, presumably, the speaker is making because the audience doesn't know what's about to be said.

I wouldn't be an engineer if I didn't immediately want to quantify an observation like this, so I set up my VCR to tape the debate held on February 21st, 2008 in Austin, Texas. (It started at 2 A.M. the following day in my time zone.) Playing back the tape (while getting some actually productive work done at the same time), I counted the number of times each candidate interjected “you know” in each of the four segments of the encounter. (Now don't say I'm unwilling to endure pain to bring items like this to you!)

  Clinton     Obama  
Segment 1   13 3
Segment 2 8 7
Segment 3 9 4
Segment 4 10 5
Total: 40 19

Between the two, they hurled fifty-nine content-free “you know”s at the audience, or about one every 90 seconds. Obama occasionally seems to say “ya”, as if he's about to spout a “you know” but leaves it at that—I did not count those.

Also, what's with Clinton clapping for herself when the audience is applauding the candidates at the start and end of the debate? That's something I always associated with the Soviet gerontocracy lined up on Lenin's tomb reviewing the May Day parade. I think Obama also did it occasionally at the beginning (the shot was from behind, and it was difficult to tell), but not at the end.

I shall now resume ignoring this tawdry business. Perhaps we will someday recall the present as an epoch of lucidity; when the generation who posts comments on YouTube slouches onto the public stage, we may have to endure OMG, LOL, and gratuitous obscenities as well.

Posted at February 22, 2008 16:53