September 25, 2004

Is there a point in this speech?

It isn't often I find myself agreeing with Stanley Fish, professor of English and law and the reigning King of Postmodernism. But in my "professional" opinion as someone who writes for a living and speaks in public as a hobby, on the level of pure rhetorical analysis, here he nails it.

Fish conducted an informal poll in a freshman writing class, asking which American presidential candidate was most capable of articulating his position clearly. The results: George "Moron" Bush won hands down over John "Nuanced" Kerry. Fish summarizes:

[D]oesn't Mr. Bush's directness and simplicity of presentation reflect a simplicity of mind and an incapacity for nuance, while Mr. Kerry's ideas are just too complicated for the rhythms of publicly accessible prose?

Sorry, but that's dead wrong. If you can't explain an idea or a policy plainly in one or two sentences, it's not yours; and if it's not yours, no one you speak to will be persuaded of it, or even know what it is, or (and this is the real point) know what you are. Words are not just the cosmetic clothing of some underlying integrity; they are the operational vehicles of that integrity, the visible manifestation of the character to which others respond. And if the words you use fall apart, ring hollow, trail off and sound as if they came from nowhere or anywhere (these are the same thing), the suspicion will grow that what they lack is what you lack, and no one will follow you.

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I haven't tuned into a formal political debate in years. I may wind up watching all of them this time round.

(A tip of the hat to Russ at Coffeehouse at the End-of-Days for digging this column up.)