The New Yorker Cites Lim on ‘The Speech’

The book, The Anti-Intellectual Presidency by Elvin Lim, assistant professor of government, is cited extensively in the January 12, 2009 issue of The New Yorker. The article, which discusses President-elect Obama’s upcoming inaugural speech and the overall dilution of presidential speech-writing, cites Lim’s work extensively, and includes these passages:

“Lim dates the institutionalization of the anti-intellectual Presidency to 1969, when Nixon established the Writing and Research Department, the first White House speechwriting office. There had been speechwriters before, but they were usually also policy advisers. With Nixon’s Administration was born a class of professionals whose sole job was to write the President’s speeches, and who have been rewarded, in the main, for the amount of applause their prose could generate. Of F.D.R.’s speeches, only about one a year was interrupted for applause (and no one  when he said that fear is all we have to fear). Bill Clinton’s last State of the Union address was interrupted a hundred and twenty times.”

and

“Lim interviewed forty-two current and former White House speechwriters. But much of his analysis rests on running inaugurals and other Presidential messages through something called the Flesch Readability Test, a formula involving the average number of words in a sentence and the average number of syllables per word. Flesch scores, when indexed to grade levels, rate the New York Times at college level; Newsweek at high school; and comic books at fifth grade. Between 1789 and 2005, the Flesch scores of Inaugural Addresses descended from a college reading level to about an eighth-grade one. Lim takes this to mean that Inaugural Addresses are getting stupider.”

The full article can be seen here (for New Yorker subscribers only).