OUR DISCOURSE HAS COME TO THIS…. This morning, the lead story on CNN.com — the main, center-of-the-page feature piece — was this bizarre item. (thanks to reader V.S.)
President Obama’s speech on the gulf oil disaster may have gone over the heads of many in his audience, according to an analysis of the 18-minute talk released Wednesday.
Tuesday night’s speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor. The Austin, Texas-based company analyzes and catalogues trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture.
Though the president used slightly less than four sentences per paragraph, his 19.8 words per sentence “added some difficulty for his target audience,” Payack said.
So, let me get this straight. The lead CNN.com story this morning was a piece quoting an alleged expert, complaining that the president spoke to the country at nearly a 10th-grade level. Obama, apparently, should have dumbed it down for us.
I realize the Oval Office address had more than its share of detractors, but this is really a question separate from the substantive content. The complaint here is that our discourse has reached a point at which the president will be criticized for not talking down more to the public.
The expert CNN relied on said some of Obama’s longer sentences used “the type of phraseology that makes you (appear) aloof and out of touch.” He recommended that the president be “more ordinary” in his choice of words.
One of the things I’ve always liked about Obama is that, as a rule, he treats the public like adults. During the campaign, when he talked about changing the nature of politics, one of the underlying points was about the way in which leaders would communicate with the electorate.
Apparently, communicating at a 10th-grade level will draw rebukes. Our political discourse is just that bad.
Postscript: I’d just add, by the way, that the CNN story reminded me of a scene from “The Simpsons.”
Dr. Hibbert: Homer, I’m afraid you’ll have to undergo a coronary bypass operation.
Homer: Say it in English, Doc!
Dr. Hibbert: You’re going to need open-heart surgery.
Homer: Spare me your medical mumbo jumbo!
Dr. Hibbert: We’re going to cut you open and tinker with your ticker.
Homer: Could you dumb it down a shade?