- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2014

President Obama’s oratory, once thought to be his greatest strength, turns out to be about as sophisticated as former President George W. Bush’s speechmaking, according to a study.

An analysis by Vocativ, a media company with headquarters in New York City, rated Mr. Obama’s State of the Union speeches as more dumbed-down than Mr. Bush‘s. The Republican’s addresses averaged a grade level of 10, and Mr. Obama’s scored a grade level of 9.4.

Overall, Mr. Obama’s speeches averaged 9.5 to Mr. Bush’s 9.4, the analysis showed.

The firm used a Flesch-Kincaid readability test, a measure of reading comprehension, to grade speeches by every president way back to George Washington.

The formula evaluates texts on a grade level: A score of 10 indicates that a speech is aimed at an audience at the 10th-grade level.

George W. Bush’s [State of the Union] speeches were a grade level higher than are Barack Obama‘s,” the firm said. “Despite President George W. Bush’s reputation as a poor speaker, Obama’s [overall] speeches are only slightly more sophisticated.”

Of the speeches that were evaluated, Mr. Bush’s highest score was 11.6, for his State of the Union address in 2005. Mr. Obama’s highest-graded speech was 11.0 for his address on election night in 2008, when he won the presidency.

Mr. Bush’s two lowest-rated speeches came in at a grade level of 8.1, including his farewell address to the nation in early 2009. Mr. Obama’s lowest-rated speech was 7.5 for his State of the Union address in 2012.

Jeff Shesol, a historian who worked as a speechwriter for President Clinton, said he doesn’t see a “huge discrepancy” between the speech quality of Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama.

“I think President Obama, no more or less than President Bush, tries to pack a lot of nuance and subtext into language that is as plain and straightforward as possible,” Mr. Shesol said in a statement for the company. “While President Bush was often inarticulate off the cuff, Bush’s speeches were underestimated. There was a crisp formality to a lot of his best speeches, particularly the ones he delivered shortly after Sept. 11.”

The analysis found that, over the centuries, presidential speeches have grown longer and less sophisticated. Vocativ said the level of sophistication has fallen as presidents try to reach broader audiences.

Abraham Lincoln’s speeches ranged in score from seven to 21. The “Gettysburg Address,” one of his shortest and one that is cited often as the best presidential speech in history, earned a grade of 11.0.

Mr. Obama’s State of the Union speeches average 1 hour, 4 minutes, according to The American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Mr. Bush’s State of the Union speeches averaged 52 minutes.

The longest-winded president since the 1960s was Bill Clinton, whose State of the Union addresses averaged nearly 1 hour, 15 minutes. Richard Nixon’s were the briefest at less than half that, just over 35 minutes.

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