When Media Matters first drew my attention to the goofy presidential biographies at the Presidential Coalition website, my reaction was simply one of amusement. Only Republican presidents are featured at the Presidential Coalition, whose declared mission is “to educate the American public of the value of having principled conservative Republican leadership at all levels of government.” Since the Coalition includes Harding, Nixon, and Bush the Lesser in its roster of “principled” leaders, one might suspect it's a parody site, but it seems its sponsors are serious—even if not very skilled at using the English language.
I asked Mark Liberman at Language Log what he made of such weird locutions as Bush's supposed effort to “beseech accountability” while providing “improved betterments.” Liberman guessed that the writer's original language might be Martian, although the omission of articles gave the prose a somewhat slavic tang. He asked Language Log readers to offer their suggestions, eliciting a generous response. I'm including some excerpts here, although you'll need to go to Liberman's article for the whole thing.
One common thread was the thought that someone had gone crazy with a thesaurus:
Liberman: The misuse of words might even be a native speaker with a poor vocabulary over-using the thesaurus—I see that from time to time in student essays.These comments and others were all very interesting, and even amusing, but then Liberman presented a correspondent's startling flash of comprehension:
Suzette Haden Elgin:I suspect that the author's native language _is_ English, and could provide you with additional examples in the same register, collected from local newspapers. Sequences like these come from people who are not academics but have as their goal the production of sizable stretches of Academic Regalian all the same. Their technique is simple but effective: Write the stuff in ordinary human-being English; take a thesaurus and choose a more AR-sounding word to replace as many of the ordinary human-being English words as possible; make the substitutions and send the result to the “Letters to the Editor” section of a newspaper. Matters such as meaning and appropriateness are not part of the process, and the authors are _very_ proud of the results.
Paul Bickart: My guess is that the management of the web site was outsourced to some Mumbai jobber, although the syntax reminds me rather more of Chinese-produced VCR manuals...
The key insight, in my opinion, came from Mae Sander:Could she be right? Is the Presidential Coalition just a magnet for spam fodder? As Liberman notes, she could be on to something here. This may be simply a Republican scam operation.I'm not a linguist at all—though I'm a fan of Language Log. But I think the most revealing page of GOPpresident.org is the donation request page.
This page wants you to fill in all your possible credit card info, your employer, etc. So I think the native language of the GOPpresident.org is SPAM. They just tried a little harder than some spammers—maybe. Some of their bios of presidents verge on the incoherent or irrelevant, as well as revealing clues of nonnativeness.
There's more, thanks to a little background check by Liberman:
The site responseunlimited.com (“Mailing Lists and Creative Services for Evangelical and Conservative Mailers”) has a page for The Presidential Coalition, but this only tells us that they're willing to sell their mailing list (which is said to number 122,054 donors). At campaignmoney.com, they think that the “Republican Presidential Coalition” is a duly registered “527” Political Organization, with a contact person named “Matthew J. Palumbo”....One more postscript to this odd little story: Liberman received a message from Stephen C. Carlson, who offered him this tidbit:
Back at compaignmoney.com's page for “The Republican Presidential Coalition”, the listings of contributions and of expenditures are both empty. So could it be that some spammers set this site up, registered a 527—and then took the money and ran?
According to Bob Novak, the (Republican) Presidential Coalition is an organization by a former congressional staffer David N. Bossie that is intended to go after Hillary (“Pelosi goes over the heads of energy, environmental committee chiefs”, Chicago Sun-Times, 1/21/2007)This, of course, brings us full circle, since it was Novak's syndicated column that first drew the Presidential Coalition to the attention of Media Matters.
Yes, it's vast right-wing conspiracy time again. Those GOP scammers really do seem to be everywhere.
P.S.: Don't miss Liberman's follow-up post: The Presidential Coalition biographies may be examples of plagiarism.