I, fraud-ius: Conservatives go back to counting Obama’s pronouns

Hannity and Dobbs preview the bad-faith attacks they’ll revive for a Democratic president

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

The right-wing barkers who populate Fox News have rediscovered one of their favorite narratives: The president is an incurable and undignified narcissist. Not the current president, mind you. Not the one who made a business of slapping his name on gaudily appointed buildings, who used to call reporters pretending to be his own publicist and boast about his romantic life, who pursues illicit extramarital affairs and then pays his mistresses hush money, who gets a twice-daily briefing on positive cable news chyrons about himself, and who kicked off his presidency by lying extravagantly about the crowd size at his inauguration.

No, the allegedly bloated and unseemly ego they can’t abide is that of former President Barack Obama, who just returned to the political stage with a critical speech aimed at Republicans generally and Donald Trump specifically. During Obama’s presidency, it was standard practice among conservative pundits to obsessively tally the number of first-person pronouns he used during public remarks and present those numbers as scientific proof of his potentially calamitous narcissism. Now that Obama has reemerged and given a political speech, they’re falling back into old habit.

Sean Hannity smarmily observed that Obama “was so proud of himself that during his recent hour-long speech he talked a lot about himself, 102 times in one hour.”

Lou Dobbs -- a tart critic of unseemly vanity who also sports an unnaturally radiant helmet of auburn hair atop his septuagenarian scalp -- complained that Obama “lovingly referred to himself 102 times during his unprecedented attack against his successor in the Oval Office.”

The news here isn’t that pundits like Hannity and Dobbs are hypocrites -- they obviously are and they don’t give a shit. Moments like these are instructive, however, in that they show how conservative media will react once a Democrat returns to the presidency.

Donald Trump’s narcissism and intensely fragile ego are more or less his defining qualities. His enablers and apologists in the conservative media who spent eight years howling that Barack Obama was fatally compromised by overriding self-regard either choose to simply ignore Trump’s actual crippling egotism or twist it into a positive. But the second Obama pops his head up, those same pundits momentarily revert to their old ways and start counting Obama’s “I’s” again. This is all being done in transparent bad faith.

It’s important to recognize this nonsense ahead of time because these liars and propagandists have huge megaphones that they will use to slander and deride whoever challenges Trump for the presidency in 2020. They will energetically attempt to hold those Democrats to standards of moral and ethical behavior that they will never impose upon the current president. When there is no actual scandal to be found, they’ll invent one.

All of this will be done with the goal of influencing the broader media coverage of those candidates. You can draw a straight line between shallow antics like conservatives counting Obama’s first-person pronouns and mainstream political analysts describing Obama as “aloof,” “professorial,” and the like.

The key to thwarting this behavior is to recognize early on that it is all rooted in aggressive dishonesty. Hannity, Dobbs, and their ilk will make every excuse for Donald Trump’s scandalous behavior and moral failings and, in literally the next breath, hold Democrats to standards reserved for saints.

(Video by John Kerr)