Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), left, with his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). A study found the younger Paul’s oratory to be at an eighth-grade level. Photo courtesy Ed Reinke, Associated Press / October 2, 2010)
As if we don’t have any more reason to loathe our Congressional representatives, along comes this Los Angeles Times report that proves how pathetic they’ve become. The nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation claims that the degree of discourse in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives has dropped one full grade – down to the sophomore level. High school sophomore, that is. So, if you call these people sophomoric, you’re not being disrespectful; you’re just being honest. I feel vindicated!
“Congress is changing as an institution, and what you see is more and more members gearing their speeches as sound bites or YouTube clips,” said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation. “You can [hark] back to a golden age of Congress when members quoted Shakespeare on the floor and really engaged in debate and talked to each other and tried to reason back and forth.”
The report came out last week.
Consider Everett M. Dirksen, the legendary Republican senator from Illinois, who defended a civil rights bill in 1964 by paraphrasing 19th century French writer Victor Hugo: “Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.”
But, in an analysis of floor debates over the last several years, the study found that newer lawmakers tended to speak at a lower grade level than the veterans of congressional speechifying. And political moderates among both Republicans and Democrats tended to carry on at a higher grade level than those more partisan liberals or conservatives.
Thus, it should be no surprise that the lawmakers at the bottom of the list, speaking at the lowest grade level, are among the most ardent tea party Republicans in the freshman class. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Rep. Robert Woodall of Georgia and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky were the bottom three – all speaking at about an eighth-grade level, the study found.
On the surface, I know this is ripe for mockery and a plethora of “Saturday Night Live” skits. But, if you consider the important role our elected officials play in the formation of national and foreign policies, then it actually becomes disturbing. There’s a sharp difference between speaking in a palatable vernacular and just talking stupid. That the relatively neophyte “Tea Party” has already had such a dramatic impact on both houses of Congress and elected individuals who can’t even form complete sentences also says a lot about the American electorate.
If you’ve ever listened to President George W. Bush or half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin, then you know some folks not only can’t, but shouldn’t speak publicly. Yet, both those clowns appealed to a wide range of people and made into high-ranking positions of power. With his frequent verbal stumbles, Bush made the U.S. the laughing stock of the world. Here we are – the richest, most powerful nation on the planet – and we had a Chief Executive who couldn’t even pronounce the word “nuclear.” I think Sarah Palin only made it into the governor’s mansion because there weren’t enough people in Alaska to vote otherwise. The largest state in the Union (geographically) has a population smaller than the city of Dallas. But, when she said “refudiate” in a 2010 interview and then compared herself to William Shakespeare, I’m sure it made even Alaskans cringe.
Has it really gotten that bad? I knew reading and writing skills among our grade and high school students have been dropping for years – much to the chagrin of, well, no one in Congress who seem more concerned with gay marriage and Obama’s birth certificate. But, if adults can’t speak properly in public, why should kids? Why criticize the younger generations for being so obsessed with cell phones and video games? It’s really kind of frightening to realize any one of those kids could be sitting in the Oval Office and many others will be in Congress – all trying to balance budgets and pass laws. What are they going to do? Communicate via Twitter? I’m afraid that’s where we’re headed, but I still hate to think that’ll be the case.
In the meantime, I’ll keep reading, writing and speaking out publicly about the issues that matter most to me. Besides, I feel an obligation to refute all that stupidity coming out of Washington.