By Dr John Shosky
Days away from the American election the race remains a toss-up. The pundits are in over-drive trying to explain the close races in states like Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, and elsewhere. After Hurricane Sandy, the candidates have resumed speaking and travelling non-stop. Words, words, words. We are drowning in words that do nothing.
The election should not even be close. The economy is in serious trouble. The bailout didn’t revive the economy. Barack Obama has no agenda for a second term, only platitudes about creating an equal society. He has looked un-presidential in the debates and his campaign speeches. Mitt Romney has not provided persuasive ideological alternatives like Ronald Reagan did thirty years ago. Romney in jeans and rolled-up shirts has looked un-presidential himself. There is an intellectual void, a barren and discouraging rhetorical emptiness. Nothing … nothing … nothing … that has been said has a lasting impact. Some voters are left with visceral feelings of anger, frustration about having to choose between the lesser of two evils, and hollow dejection about the future of the economy and the country. This election should have a tone of optimism and nostalgia for the future. Sadly, it doesn’t. Look at the lack of excitement as many politicians and campaign workers simply go through the motions.
A key reason for this close race is the absence of rhetorical impact, the missing words and ideas that create separation between candidates. Candidates want to use language to bond with an audience and heal division. But they also must use language to define difference between those running for office. Speechwriters and veteran political observers instantly look for those words. Voters need them. Their absence is obvious, speech after speech. After millions of words in thousands of speeches this election is defined more by what is missing than by what has been said. The close races are a primarily a product of mind-numbing, vacuous, or weak word choices that fail to have any lasting impact with voters. That’s right. In swing states the issue is not primarily party. Undecided and independent voters are looking and listening. Most are not finding what they need to make a distinctive choice. Yes, we have heard about Bain Capital, tax payments, personal wealth, and other comments by Obama about Romney. And we have heard from Obama about killing bin Laden, saving Detroit, and federal compulsory health care (Obamacare). And Romney has discussed high taxes, over-regulation, a do-nothing administration, and expanding government. Where are the profound, unforgettable words that define voting issues? Where are the words that go for the jugular? This election has produced some of the most infantile, dead-on-arrival, and embarrassing rhetoric in the history of presidential elections. For example, there was no lasting traction with Obama’s use of “Romnesia,” “the war on women,” ”47 percent,” or other efforts to taint Romney, making him the issue. In turn, Romney has produced no classic, icon descriptions of the last four years, even though middle class income is down by forty percent, unemployment is struck at eight percent, and American foreign policy is in retrenchment. After billions of dollars, years of preparation, and opportunities galore, is this the best they can do? Obama’s excellent White House speechwriters are prohibited by law from participating in political events. So they are out. Where is a rhetorical genius like Ted Sorensen, Richard Goodwin, Michael Gerson, or even the earlier version of David Plouffe? Where is a veteran, cut-through-the-crap person like Pat Buchanan, Lee Atwater, James Carville, Alastair Campbell, or Eric Pickles? Where is the savvy guidance of a Geoffrey Howe or David Gergen? What about using the trans-Atlantic wisdom of a Peter Botting (the master) or Shane Greer (who may know more about American politics than most American politicians)? Not all words are equal. Words are weapons. Every battle is a battle of ideas. Where is the literary passion and visionary inspiration of a Peggy Noonan or Phil Collins (the Blair speechwriter)? Continue reading