There’s some discussion on the WELL this morning of a line from Al Gore’s new book that is apparently quoted in David Brooks’s New York Times column today as an example of muddled thinking:
“The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way — a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.”
Well, I don’t think the sentence is all that bad. I certainly don’t think it shows muddled thinking. I do wish Gore were plainer spoken, but I wish that were true of all politicians, and I’m sorry to say especially the ones on our side, who have a tendency to write as though they were trying to impress their college professors or something.
But Gore’s sentence is no worse than most such writing, and the only problem I can see with it is that it uses college-reading-level vocabulary and sentence structure to express an idea that doesn’t require it. The thinking isn’t muddled, it’s just not expressed as plainly as it could be.
But boy, I gotta say that I’d sure like it if just once in a while I could hear Gore or any other Democratic politician say something like, “You know, folks, our democracy here in America is in terrible shape, and we’re going to lose it if we don’t do something. I think there’s only one way to get it back, and that’s to get a real, honest discussion going again between our citizens and our leaders, like we used to have in this country. Americans need to be able to say what they think, and make suggestions, and come up with good ideas, and then they need to know that the people who are running this country have heard what they said. Our leaders have to start responding in ways that mean something, not just in empty cliches and form letters.”
Same idea, just different words. Republicans don’t shy away from writing and speech-making at an eighth-grade reading level, and it looks to me like a lot of Americans vote for them not so much because they agree with the Republicans more than with the Democrats but because the Republicans are the only politicians these people can make sense of. I think a lot of this “culture war” crap boils down to the fact that a lot of Americans feel like liberals are more concerned about showing off their college-level vocabularies than they are about the country. Hell, I get to feeling that way sometimes myself, and I’m generally in agreement with these blowhards. And I sure don’t know what else you could expect people to think about politicians who refuse to bring what they’re saying down to their level. It’s got to give the impression that Democratic politicians don’t care a whole lot about folks like them.
Granted, Democrats are usually trying to put across more complex ideas than the easy but false answers the Republicans tend to be selling nowadays. But if more lefties could learn to explain themselves better to the less well educated, I think we’d start capturing the hearts and minds of a fair number of people who are at the moment solidly in the Republican base. My hunch, anyway.