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Eric Thomas: Language Matters In Political Debate

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Mitt Romney (left); Rick Santorum (credit: Getty images)

Mitt Romney (left); Rick Santorum (credit: Getty images)

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As a wrap up on the Michigan primary, I would like to write an indulgent blog about language. I understand that most people will surf away at the crack of the first sentence, and I appreciate you for tolerating me enough to continue reading. If you have read my missives on this website in the past, you have probably detected I am a bit of a literary nerd. The humanities have always been my strong suit and my weaknesses lie in everything else. I can’t even do simple arithmetic without a calculator.

I feel passionately about language and I pay strict attention to words that are used. The force that drives our thoughts and ideas is the language in which we communicate and I believe occasionally it should be examined.

Cable news is the worst offender. According to these channels, candidates are always “attacking” each other or “attacking” the rights of someone. The word “attack” is then also used by these same reporters when Afghan rebels murder soldiers. There is no demarcation line. It seems odd in a world of Syrian slaughters and Afghan rebellions the word “attack” wouldn’t be reserved just for occasions when blood is shed. I call for an immediate moratorium on the word “attack” or any derivative of it.

In fact, any war-like words in relation to politics need to be given the Viking funeral. When a writer or a speaker feels as though “attack” has been overplayed they have recently started using “assault”. For some reason it’s always a “full on” assault. Never have I heard someone launch a “half on” assault, so the words “full on” are simply taking up space. Saying that someone is “mounting a defense” or “shooting down claims” does not accurately describe the discourse. Why not just point out that someone is saying something else, why must everything be so hyperbolic?

The new one that I can’t stand is this notion that persons of a certain political ideology speak a certain way and if a person starts using that language it is some form of treason. I have heard Romney accused of “speaking the language of the 1 percent” and at the same time accused of “speaking the language of the Occupy Wall Street crowd”. This is not only riotously stupid, it also is dangerous.

Don’t you think you are driving down the wrong street philosophically when you adopt the same tactic as the aliens from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”?

Politics, in essence, breaks down to discussions of civics and the distribution of allocated societal resources. These discussions are often needlessly complicated by reasonable people whom have been thoroughly schooled or churched and are capable of operating on a decided upon bank of information. This unfortunately limits the political audience. Certain political commentators (Beck, Schultz, Limbaugh, Rhodes) have chosen to do shows that appeal to a more massive audience than your usual political participants.

They have decided to make the information easier to chew and swallow. They do so because they believe the public is far too dense to take in the information that they themselves can and the only way to get idiots to be interested in it is to dumb it down. In doing so they set up the opposing party as an ideological straw man for their audience to beam blame at. It’s that ridiculous “with us or against us” paradigm and is used by both sides. I have always felt that an overly simple message insults the audience it’s aimed at but that’s just my opinion.

This all sets us up for the next phrase I am sick of, “What (he/she) is trying to say…” or “What (he/she) means by that is…” The only thing I hate more than this phrase is the arrogant mouth it comes from. I don’t need any help in trying to decipher what Rick Santorum said. I think I know what he said because I speak English and I have ears that work. If I were deaf, I could read what he said and I would understand it. The worst part about this is the people speaking it are often accomplished public speakers! The idea that these show hosts are operating on some ethereal plane of understanding I’m not privy to is ridiculous. If the person speaking is lying and you have proof of it, present that evidence. Don’t act like you have some window into the heart of another person. If I have absolutely no idea what my own motivations are on any given day, how can anyone be arrogant enough to believe they have a perfectly drawn map of another person whom they have only casually met or never met at all?

Thanks for indulging me. I am not calling for a governmental fiat; I am simply using the public forum to vent a little. The Internet sure is grand.

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