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2,126 'Buts,' and 55 'Reagans'

With the arrival on the scene of a strange Alaskan who seems willing to say anything, I find myself looking in strange places for solace. News sites don't help, nor do blogs. They offer the reverse of being haunted by a relationship you once had: being haunted by a future relationship you don't want to have. I'm being forced to get to know someone whom I less and less enjoy knowing. My latest attempt to escape the northern chill was spent surfing a site called Speech Wars, created by Ben Reis in Jerusalem. The idea is that users can type in a word and get a count of how many times Barack Obama or John McCain has said it in speeches delivered between April of 2004 and early August of 2008.

One thing I discovered is that Obama simply talks a lot more than John McCain--either that or he uses more conjunctions. I know this because I typed in the word “and,” which I expect is pretty much tied to word count, and Obama said "and" 14,820 times, while John McCain said it only 10,214 times. What about “but,” you ask? The taciturn McCain said it 1,304 times, while the chatty Obama said it 2,126 times. Then, of course, there's “if,” which McCain said 513 times and Obama said 1,111 times. That's about 30,000 public ifs, ands, and buts.

A few other findings: McCain mentioned “Bush” only 52 times, while Obama uttered “Bush” 223 times. (I wonder why.) McCain said the word “Reagan” 55 times, while Obama said it only ten. McCain mentioned “Kennedy” ten times, while Obama did so 82 times. And so forth. As for terms like “terrorist,” “Iran,” and “Iraq,” they produced pretty even results among the two candidates. The most extreme difference was on the word “dream,” which McCain said only 19 times compared to Obama's whopping 196.

Sadly, I just wasn't able to link the candidates to very interesting words. Neither candidate has said “pizzazz,” or “foxy,” or “dude.” If you like sports, McCain said “football” four times, while Obama said it once. “Basketball” got one mention from Obama, zero from McCain. But neither of those would be as interesting as “tennis,” “lacrosse,” or “cricket,” each of which has been mysteriously overlooked by the candidates. So my mood slumped further.

I did, by the way, look up one final sport: hockey. It yielded zero results. But Speech Wars' database hasn't been updated since August. And things have since changed, my friends. Oh, boy, have they ever changed.

T. A. Frank is an editor at the Washington Monthly and an Irvine Fellow at the New America Foundation.

By T.A. Frank