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October 17, 2012

Political Train Wrecks

I don't know about British English, but in American English we have a term 'like watching a train wreck' to describe something that is horrible or disastrous but...

... we just can't keep ourselves from watching.

Have you noticed how on busy streets or freeways, people slow down and stare at car crashes? We watch with a mix of horror, sympathy and some gratitude that it wasn't us.

National election campaign seasons are pretty close to that image. We watch and listen in amazement, tedium and confusion as we see candidates answer direct questions in the most extraordinarily evasive and distorted (and usually self-serving) ways.

If you haven't been already, I encourage you to watch the US presidential debates. They are a marvel of linguistic and rhetorical flourishes, exaggerations and talking points all designed to convince us all with the biggest sales pitch of them all.

In polite company, the conventional wisdom is that we shouldn't bring up politics or religion. It's an interesting assumption; why wouldn't we talk about what matters most to us?

Religion is generally what we believe in as guidelines for personal behavior and values, while politics is how we express our values when it comes to shared laws and policies.

Some of us can barely keep from watching the next installment of this seemingly endless, complex and increasingly strange and brutalizing process we in the United States have developed to choose, sift and eventually elect our leaders.

I’ve found a few memorable quotes from politicians I’d like to share. Some are monuments to obfuscation; others are accidental expressions of truth or otherwise obscured agendas. Either way, they are tributes to human facility with language and logic. We can learn a lot from them – and God help us if we don’t’.

"As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” President George W. Bush

As a teacher I have a bit of sympathy for politicians – in a career of near constant speaking they are bound to make some mis-statements. But the gaffes produced by teams of speech writers never cease to amaze me.

One lesson to us all to is use words carefully. They will almost certainly come back to haunt us.

Posted by mmorf at October 17, 2012 12:52 PM


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