September 9th, 2008

ozarque figure

Recommended link; linguistics; political language...

My thanks to Cindy Brown for alerting me to Wendy Redal's article titled "Since when are education and eloquence liabilities in a president?," at
http://www.scholarsandrogues.com/2008/09/07/since-when-are-education-and-eloquence-liabilities-in-a-president/ .

This is a well-written, carefully-researched, logically-and-rationally-argued article. I enjoyed reading it, and I recommend it. However...

Redal quotes Paul Krugman, from the New York Times: “What struck me … is how much of the anger on the right is based not on the claim that Democrats have done bad things, but on the perception – generally based on no evidence whatsoever – that Democrats look down their noses at regular people.”

The problem, as I perceive it, is that this article would be so easy to characterize as evidence that Democrats look down their noses at regular people. Not that all that many "regular people" are likely to read it, and not that all that many "regular people" who started reading it would read it all the way through. But you could take a sampler from this article and make a very effective McCain attack ad in about five minutes flat.

For example....


"I don't want -- and we don't need -- 'just a regular Joe -- or Jane' -- at the helm of this nation..."

"... ergo, unfit to be president. (Oops -- arrogant and presumptuous of me to resort to Latin; sorry.)"

"Obama, who chose to waste his time in community activism..."


I agree with Wendy Redal when she says that "rhetoric -- the ability to use language effectively, the art of persuasive oratory -- has held a venerable place in classical education. ... To communicate well persuasively -- to order one's thoughts, to select and support powerful arguments, and to make a case through potent, moving prose, is -- take it from a college professor in 2008 -- a rare and dying art. Far from being verbal fluff, effective oration reflects effective thinking."

Dr. Redal is absolutely right. But the two most important words in that quote are "persuasive" and "persuasively." If we want to persuade "regular people" with our language, spoken or written, we have to have enough backbone to resist the temptation to show off. And that is most emphatically not easy.