Vetting of the president: What political buzzwords tell us about the vote

This is the first of a number of reports that will analyze what the top political buzzwords seemingly tell us about the upcoming vote.

The first thing you notice about the “Top Political Buzzwords of the Midterm Elections” is that many concern President Obama as a person. Two years into his presidency, this tells us something about the president's relationship to the American people: A good number of citizens are only now beginning to understand the president as a person. And it is interesting to see that many news organizations, apart from the blogs and talk radio shows, are also following these citizens' lead. Only now is President Obama being “vetted”.

According to yourDictionary.com, “to vet” is the process “to examine, investigate, or evaluate in a thorough or expert way.” In the throes of Obama-mania, many were apparently willing to take a chance on the engaging, handsome, thoughtful newcomer, especially after many eventful and exhausting years under his predecessor. We read the autobiographies, we joined the explosive rallies, and we watched as the entire world seemed to yearn for a “regime change” in the U.S. We were, after all, the people we had been waiting for. But in the “rush to victory” we never really got to know the president. Not in the same way we knew, say, Hillary.

We've known Hillary, her husband, her daughter, her history, her religion, her schooling, her scandals, alleged or otherwise, the rumors, for better or for ill -- we know Hillary.

And we knew John McCain's life since Vietnam; Al Gore's roommate at Harvard; George W. Bush's stint as a cheerleader at Andover; John Kerry’s testimony before congress in 1969; Bush’s father and his father’s father; Ronald Reagan since "Bedtime for Bonzo"; and so on. All of the above have decades of public service and have (or had) been vetted every which way possible, and then some.

An exception, of course, was Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia (and nuclear engineer) -- as he first introduced himself to the nation. Carter was elected to office at least partly as an antidote to what had transpired before him (Watergate), and was thought to be part of a national cleansing, a fresh start, a break with a troubled past. And, like Obama, was relatively new to the political scene, and lightly vetted, when elected to the presidency.

In Barack Obama's case he is more than a self-made man: Obama is a self-defined man. In this he is not unlike John F. Kennedy with the legend of PT-109 and his Pulitzer-prize best-seller “Profiles in Courage”, which was, perhaps, ghost-written. Though JFK was a relative newcomer to the national scene, the stories of Joe Kennedy as a “rum-runner” during Prohibition and his maternal grandfather “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the storied Boston politician, were circulating for decades before JFK stood for the presidency.

As a self-defined man, much of the traditional vetting provided by the media was compressed into a number of months, and much of that was taken directly from Obama’s autobiographies, “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope”. And so we are back to the self-defined man, to a large extent, vetting himself.

And so it is none too surprising that many of the buzzwords surrounding the midterms are about Obama as a man, a person, a personality.

Comparing data from just before the 2008 general election, we see much the same patterns as today. Citations about Obama's religion, his supposed “aloofness,” and even his smoking were much higher than what we had seen for other candidates (Bush, Kerry, Gore, etc.) in the previous two election cycles.

What we are seeing in the data appears to be a continuation of the process that ordinarily would have been ongoing for a decade or more. So the public vetting of the president continues on the Internet, in the blogs, throughout social media, and in the print and electronic media itself.

Paul JJ Payack is president and chief word analyst of the Global Language Monitor.