While batching up some photos I like to surf my favourite news and commentary sites. Tonight I stumbled across a piece on AlterNet.org by Chris Hedges of TruthDig. Here’s an excerpt:
“The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standard needed for a reader to grasp the text. During the 2000 debates George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6). In the 1992 debates Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3). In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders. In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0. In short, today’s political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level.”
Amazing. I remember when I was editor of the high school newspaper, I was supposed to check all articles to make sure none were too complicated. At the time the policy was to put out a paper that had a literary “skill level” of tenth grade. Too low and it would look like a tabloid, and too high and most of the students would throw it away. So I see why the campaigns dumb down their material over time.
But that doesn’t excuse people from demanding better. I assume I’m not the only person who feels like smacking the smirk off George W. every time he opens his mouth. He talks down to his audience, and he uses “See Spot Run” words as if he’s talking to preschoolers. If your own president doesn’t treat you like an adult, who will?
This is another reason why I really admire Obama’s speeches. He uses advanced sentence structure, strong words, and filled-out concepts. He doesn’t speak down to his listeners. He’s reassuring without being condescending, and he pauses to think before speaking.
I hope the country can take the cue from their new leader and get back on track. Pick up a book! Warm up that brain! Do a crossword puzzle! Let’s put down the credit card and get back to work!