The Style And Substance Of Political Rhetoric

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

More than ever on the campaign trail, the candidates are dropping their G’s. Hardworkin’ families are strainin’ and tryin’a get ahead. It’s not only Sarah Palin but Mr McCain, too, occasionally Mr Obama, and, of course, George W Bush when he darts out like the bird in a cuckoo clock to tell us we are in crisis. All of the candidates say “mom and dad”: “our moms and dads who are struggling.” This is Mr Bush’s former communications adviser Karen Hughes’s contribution to our democratic life, that you cannot speak like an adult in politics now, that’s too austere and detached, snobby. No one can say mothers and fathers, it’s all now the faux down-home, patronizing—and infantilizing—moms and dads. Do politicians ever remember that in a nation obsessed with politics, our children—sorry, our kids—look to political figures for a model as to how adults sound?

Noonan’s right, of course—but I would argue that this “infantilizing” of political speech is entirely appropriate. After all, consider the content of all our political rhetoric.  Both Obama and McCain, like political leaders anywhere else in the world, speak in ridiculously simplistic terms that they surely don’t believe in themselves. On one hand, they pander to their base, whose vision of the world is often formed out of ideological slogans; on the other, they try to assuage voters by proposing simple solutions to complex problems such as unemployment, global warming and the financial crisis. To win elections, they have to dumb it down.

So it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the style of fighting elections is catching up with the substance of it. Isn’t it like that in India also?

(Link via email from Sanjeev.)