we are young and stupid and raised by wolves
(this is not real life. these are not pictures of me. I am 20-something years old and a woman and passionate about politics and fanfiction and, as far as you are concerned, I only exist online.)
Victor Hugo, dropping the mic (via ladysaviours)
This honestly doesn’t piss me off. The voting public doesn’t just consist of well-educated students or even English as a first language speakers. Even if he spoke at a 12th grade level, would he have said anything more profound?
Good point about the number of non-native English speakers in this country, and indeed, you certainly don’t have to be educated to vote (and I’m not advocating that - it sounds like something good in theory, bad in practice, and I am definitely for the democracy we have now).
I understand the practicality of the choice to make the SOTU as simple as possible. It’s good politically, because the biggest purpose of last night’s speech was to get Obama re-elected, so he was appealing to as broad a swathe of voters as possible. He wanted to make his message as clear and easily understood as possible, and quotable in this age of Twitter and text, etc. I get that.
What really bothers me is how this contradicts the lie that is constantly perpetuated by politicians (including by Obama himself on at least one occasion, although I really think the GOP, Romney especially, forced him to it - nevertheless, of course, he’s ultimately responsible in deciding to say it): that this is “the greatest country in the world.” First thing, we are not by many, many scales of measurement (happiness, health care, income, education, high standard of living for its citizens). Being the only remaining military superpower (and funny how central that was to Obama’s address last night, our military success and their example to follow) does not make us the greatest, but it does make it likely we are the most arrogant. Hence, the notion that we are the greatest repeated at such frequency among politicians. (Although maybe it’s every politician’s job, in every country, to claim that.)
So what infuriates me is the idea that the greatest country needs to talk to its citizens on an eighth-grade level for maximum impact. I’m offended by the idea that presidents have had, over the last century, to dumb things down for its citizens.
And maybe I’m taking that test too seriously, and maybe it shouldn’t be used to judge the SOTU at all, given the factors of ESL citizens (and even non-citizens who still live here) and the non-privileged. My post was a pretty emotional response, I admit, just to the premise that that article raised.
But for the second part of your comment, Joy, about whether he would have said anything more profound at a 12th-grade level - I think Obama said exactly what he wanted to say last night, broken down into very simple bits for easier chewing and swallowing. I left the viewing of it thinking it was a “pretty good” speech, taking into account all the factors that must have driven it, but I am far from 100% satisfied with his proposals or even the writing. (I admired the narrative carried throughout more than the style of the language - the story, more than the writing, if that makes sense.) But I have higher expectations for non-election-year SOTUs.
So, to finally get to an answer: I don’t think he would have said anything more profound, but I certainly think he could have. I think there’s far more you can do with a bigger vocabulary and more complex sentences. I sincerely miss the best writers of the 19th century, and I wish we could recapture some of their style. They were really creative with the English language, explored it to its best possible usage, that I don’t see much of today.
And the idealistic part of me whines, what’s WRONG with challenging people, making them look up and learn a new word, though again I know that’s not how it works in reality, people just tune out something they don’t understand. But I’m a big fangirl of the English language and I like to see it used at full capacity, especially by someone who is supposed to be so intelligent and eloquent and is speaking now as ~leader of the free world~.
I know he didn’t write that speech, by the way. I know a team did, and they had their reasons for everything, and he of course had some influence and final say, he crossed things out and rewrote lines, but he bowed too to their priorities, to the need of keeping it almost unbearably simple.
What really bothers me is knowing that he could have written something much more eloquent and complex, and he chose not to. Because it was for the American people.
I’d like to see a 12th-grade level SOTU. I’d like to see how complex it actually would be. Maybe I’ll look up Kennedy’s.
Sylvia Plath, The Unabrided Journals (July 1951)