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Why Glottal Stops Will Continue to Plague Mr. Obama in the Debates — UPDATE “Speech Disfluency”

October 9, 2012

Believe it or not, a number of conservatives felt sorry for Mr. Obama during the first debate.  Most Americans don’t like to see their President look bad on national television regardless of party affiliation.  There were some moments where he seemed not sure of what to say and injected those glottal stops that are so characteristic of someone who is searching for his words and his mental feet.  It happens to us all when internally we doubt what we are saying or simply don’t quite understand what we are saying.

Let’s examine the first, which occurs when we don’t really believe what we are saying.  A simple truth of good rhetoric is to make yourself actually believe what you are saying.  When you can do that you are all the more persuasive (assuming of course a certain minimum of reasonableness in whatever proposition you are urging).  Good debaters know this is essential.  It is similar to the gift of acting where the debater is not truly convinced of the side he chose.  Of course, one would expect that in a political battle between Big Government principles on the one hand and Limited Government, on the other, the two advocates would truly believe their respective side and so satisfy that Shakespearean admonition of centuries past

to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.

I submit to you that Mr. Obama does not even believe his own Big Government principles anymore.  He tried, and he failed.  How could he stand up to Mr. Romney’s elegant attack in which in a burst of sincere indignation he claimed the proof :

And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work.  The proof of that is one out of six people in poverty.  The proof of that is we’ve gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps.  The proof of that is that 50 percent of college graduates this year can’t find work.  We know that the path we’re taking is not working.  It’s time for a new path.

Mr. Obama’s only response:  I need more time.  While certainly Keynesian in approach, he didn’t even appeal to that basic economic theory to justify his plea to keep his job.  Even his attempt to draw the silver linings out of the economic mess were uninspired.  He doesn’t really believe his own approach to governing, and so came off as lifeless.  One can conjecture a different reason for his lack of conviction:  he doesn’t care for any purposeful action that would renew the economy.  According to Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016, Mr. Obama’s goal could be the permanent crippling of America as the great world power.  It is an alarming proposition, but Mr. D’Souza, a Ivy League contemporary of the President, uncovers the anti-colonial views of Mr. Obama’s mentors to the point where the United States, like Britain before it, is seen as the great oppressor of the developing nations.  The United States rapes the lands of resources and leaves the people nothing.  Thus you have the White House returning the bust of Winston Churchill to the British Embassy, for who could bear having that great colonialist in daily view.  Thus the White House supports Brazil in its offshore drilling but does all it can to strangle U.S. operations.  Thus you have the unprecedented build-up of debt and subtle signals that more debt is necessary.  And on and on.  Either way, Mr. Obama appeared to lack faith in his own position which is a fatal error in any debate.

The other reason someone stumbles in a presentation is because they don’t truly understand what they are saying.  So they stick to a script and then realize they are repeating their script and then get nervous and try to alter their script on the fly and get even more nervous for being afraid of straying too far from the script.  Considering this point, the best example of that in the debate was when the President asserted that U.S. businesses get a special tax break for moving operations off-shore.  Mr. Romney was correctly astonished by such a statement saying he had been in business for 25 years and had never heard of such a thing.  No such credit exists.  Mr. Obama could do nothing but stare blankly back at the Governor.  Had he known anything, he would not have made such a statement.  Politifact, the somewhat compromised fact-checking organization, actually agreed with the Governor, and then lamely tried to cover for the President by noting that every business gets a deduction for moving expenses.   The effect of this takedown by Mr. Romney was an acceleration of a crisis within the President which expressed itself in avoidance and tripped up speech.   The second best example is that the President simply repeated the mantra that Mr. Romney’s plan would result in $5 trillion of tax cuts.  As much as the Governor explained this was not the case, Mr. Obama simply repeated it earning a remark from the Governor that young boys will often repeated a falsehood in order to persuade their parents of its truth.  How Mr. Obama felt at being compared to a mendacious boy one can only presume he was embarrassed, which in turn added to the snowball of defeat the debate had become for him.

And so Mr. Obama will not be able to break out of his decidely inferior position in the following debates.  He has lost faith in his own policies or never believed in them in the first place and simply doesn’t understand some of the technicalities of the issues he is pretending to be expert on.  There is no critique of his intellect imbedded in this last comment.  By all accounts the President is an intelligent man, even if somewhat dependent upon aids such as a teleprompter to deliver a speech.  No one can really have mastery over the details of such a massively complicated thing as the economy and the Federal government.  How can a president then comfortably address issues?  Through general principles of the role of government, the way the economy works in a free market, and the way to deal with tyranny around the world.  The Governor did so well because he grasps these principles.  He will continue to do well as a result (Hot Air has the latest on markedly improving polling for him:, and the President will, at best, muddle along, but not without those awkward stops and ums and uhs and glottal effects. 

My conservative friends, get ready to feel sorry for the President again.


A comment suggests a different term to describe the interstitial “filler” sounds someone makes when they are speaking — speech disfluency.  When it comes down to it, they are similar concepts.  Speech disfluency is a breaking up of the flow of the sentence whereas glottal stop is the stopping of a sound of a word which sometimes can be just the way we speak, e.g., button is bu(t)-on, or in my view, repeated “uhs” in the course of framing a sentence.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Darren Hampton permalink
    October 9, 2012 4:51 pm

    A glottal stop is when you *stop* pushing air over the larynx (glottis), such as in the quick pronunciations of “kitten” and “button”. In the phrase “uh-oh”, the stop is the *hyphen, without which it would sound like “uhhohh” in one continuous sound.

    Don’t use words you don’t know the meaning of, especially not in your title, even if they sound attractively technical and fancy.

  2. Darren Hampton permalink
    October 9, 2012 4:52 pm

    If you do want to use a technical term, the “uhhhs” Obama uses so often are actually called “Speech Disfluencies” or “Discourse particles.”

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