Recently I posted a few comments on the claim made by some conservatives that the president comes off as a narcissist because, they say, of his excessive use of the personal pronoun, as well as the defense of him that can be made on this. Among other things, I noted that it is not just a question of how much one uses the personal pronoun, but how one uses it.
Now there is another item in the news that brings this question up again in a slightly different way. The president has generated some comment by seeming to try to shift the blame for underestimating problems in the Middle East to the American intelligence community. You can read about it here in the New York Times.
Here is the key phrase: “Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that, I think, they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.”
Notice a couple of things. In the first place, the president says “I think,” as if he has heard about this concession of failure from news reports and not directly from Clapper himself in a meeting about the subject. This is an effort to distance himself from the errors. Second, whereas he sometimes speaks in other contexts of “my national security team,” here it is not “his” but “our head” of “the intelligence community.” In the wake of failure, the president is not so interested in expressing personal ownership of these public officials and institutions.
This, of course, does not show that the president is a narcissist, although it may suggest that he possesses his full share of the kind of vanity that many politicians probably have. Whether he has more of it than the average would be difficult to say.
But here is a place where partisan criticism might provide some useful work for social science. Whether or not one likes the current president, and whether or not one agrees with the charge that he uses the personal pronoun too much or in the wrong way, the dispute surely highlights a phenomenon that some political scientist–or maybe some student of political communications–should study. We have a big body of material documenting what presidents have said in relation to important public events, much of it digitized and easy to search. Some young scholar working on a PhD might find a worse dissertation topic that the kind of language presidents use in talking about their administration’s successes and failures.