"Hey, guess what? That's right! There's another crisis
that you can only solve by electing me to higher office!"
Politicians speak the language of obfuscation
By CHUCK McFADDEN
Ive always wondered about it. Perhaps you have too.
Im talking about the language used by politicians when they get elected to something. Its all there in the inaugural speech, or the speech given to cheering supporters at the victory party. Inevitable.
After a campaign that is described as the most crucial in the history of nation/state/water district they solemnly tell us that the nation/state/water district is facing a crisis. The crisis is grave. It can only be resolved by the efforts of the newly elected politician who promises to devote every fiber of his or her being to the task. It
will demand sacrifice from all of us, but with Gods help, all will be well.
And then, Whee! a year or two later, the politician is off again, whooping and hollering on the campaign trail for some higher office.
What happened to the original crisis? Never mind. That was then, this is now. Shut up and sit down. We have a brand-new crisis that is much more fun.
The politician is still in an office that he or she has repeatedly declared carries heavy responsibilities. But now the politician is campaigning for another job, spending 14 hours a day eating sometimes godawful food while trying to convince voters that the new crisis demands that the politician be elected. Theres no mention of the duties of the office the politician presently holds, and there is no evidence that the politician has given any thought to them at all.
Fulfilling duties of the present office? What are you talking about? I have a campaign on my hands.
Strangely enough, reporters never seem to ask, Sir, you said not more than a year ago that the nation/state/water district faced a grave crisis that you were going to devote every fiber of your being to solve. Now youre devoting every fiber of your being to getting elected to another office. What gives?
The politician will answer with a list of accomplishments, not pointing out that the grave crisis is still there. In fact, now that you mention it, the grave crisis isnt that big a deal. The politician doesnt say that explicitly, of course, because that would be too
ridiculous even for a politician to say. The politician just sidles around the question.
This is all rather naive, of course. We must all get it through our heads that, like a bluejay, a politician is attracted to a bright, shiny object--like another, higher office. Its a baked-in characteristic, like DNA that dictates blue eyes. A decent respect for the opinion of any kind rules out the hypothetical question from a reporter such as the one above. You dont ask a starving man why hes eating a hamburger, do you?
The above ruminations concern only one aspect of political communication, or lack of it. There are at least two others.
Number one is the vow by candidates that when they get to, say, Congress, by God, things are going to be different. The candidate is going to shake Congress out of its old, corrupt ways.
Sheerest nonsense, of course. If the politician is able to shuck and jive a sufficient number of voters to get elected, the cold fact is that the newly arrived reformer is one of 535 members of Congress and isnt going to reform anything. In fact, the overwhelming certainty is that our crusader will be paying close attention to the wishes of the people and organizations who invested the money to get him/her into the marble halls.
But you cant say that to the voters, because they dont like Congress and they want someone who is going to change things. They are inevitably disappointed. What! You pay attention to lobbyists? Horrors!
As a candidate, you have to carefully avoid the fact that your individual race really doesnt amount to much. Voters have to feel they are important, dont they? If they are acquainted with the facts of life, how important are they going to feel?
Number Two is the We all hope stratagem.
Reporter: Mr. Mayor, there are reports that Amalgamated Widgets is going to pull out of its downtown office building and move lock, stock and barrel to the suburbs, leaving a giant hole in the citys business scene. What about that? Is it going to happen?
Answer thats not an answer: We all hope that Amalgamated Widgets will not pull out of the city and move to the suburbs. We believe that would not be in the best interests of the city, or of Amalgamated.
Follow-up question never asked: Mr. Mayor, I didnt ask you what you hoped. I asked if Amalgamated was going to move out. We all know what you hope.
The sad fact is that any candidate or politician who fails to use the above evasions and fantasies is probably going to lose. Show me a politician who levels with the voters and Ill show you a defeated politician.
One hopes for more. But then, one hopes for hot fudge Sundaes that are good for you. In either case, the chances are not good.
©2012 by Charles M. McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted July 23, 2012.
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