Double-speak 101

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I sat through a 30-minute political tirade last Wednesday afternoon. The tirader, a “potential” candidate for one of Delaware’s numerous school boards, seemed oblivious to the fact that we tiradees were more embarrassed than interested. I’m not going to name the dude because I refuse to give him any press at all, even negative press.

 

Astute politicians—and ONLY the astute ones–seem to have one thing in common. They have huge egos that they’ve learned to camouflage by using generous coats of modesty and affability. This produces a rather pleasant, veneer-like appearance to their celebrity.

 

However, Sherwin Williams must have been closed the day this guy showed up to pick up his painting supplies.

 

School board candidates are politicians, no different from those seeking other elective offices. But, unlike other elective offices, school board seekers don’t have to campaign as rigorously.

 

First, school board elections are held at the most innocuous times with voter turnout closer to two-percent than five-percent. Second, the candidates are practically anointed by the “power” structure within the sitting boards. So, “politicking” is not something board position seekers need to do.

 

Educational administrators, particularly school board members, are notorious perpetrators of munificent amounts of double-speak, passionately expressed in their favorite mode of communication: passive voice. Thanks to this man’s efforts, the stereotype remains firmly intact.

 

“It’s imperative to get a handle on wasteful spending,” he bellowed. “The need is critical for allocating more money to classrooms rather than to administrators,” he continued. “The need to reduce the number of school districts in this state has become evident,” he admonished. “We MUST get more parents involved with their children’s education,” he declared. “Discipline is all but dead in public schools,” he sputtered.

 

He was long on stating the obvious problems that everyone, including my 15-year-old cat, already knows about. He was alarmingly short on stated solutions, though.

 

I was one of several people present. While I observed about twenty people walk off shaking their heads in disgust, I remained put, out of, um… respect. Besides, this occasion had “COLUMN” written all over it.

 

What amazed me beyond belief was the rapture-like attention most of those remaining were paying to this individual. It was as though he was Jesus, giving the famous Sermon on the Mount. I expected a lunch of loaves and fishes to appear at any moment.

 

There is a saying in politics and post-secondary education: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” He had this down to a science and, trust me, he was light-years from brilliant.

 

The man used turns of phrases and descriptors that people rarely hear at a local level. How about some of these—I’m not making this stuff up, either.

 

Have you ever heard of “subdued flamboyance?” He used “courteously unfriendly” four times over a 15-minute span. Also, I’ve met thousands of people during my life to date, and none have been “compassionately quarrelsome” or “spuriously real” or “harshly tender? In fact, I have no idea what these terms even mean.

 

He referred to a speech that he claimed our Governor, Ruth Ann Minner, gave several months ago, wherein she, he stated, “inferred that some educational programs should be cut. My implication from this,” he told us, “was that she has no idea of the problems we face.”

 

I’ve searched everywhere, including the State of Delaware web site and a call to her office. I can’t find it. And, neither can members of her speech-writing staff find it.

 

As a governor, people either love Ruth Ann Minner or they despise her. From the average poll in this state, more fall into the latter category than the former. But, if this man wants to be on a school board, he should know that speakers imply and listeners infer.

 

No matter what you think of Ruth Ann Minner, she knows the difference between “infer” and “imply,” and HER formal education ended with a GED, albeit a respectable achievement for her in light of several personal adversities she faced in her early years, over which she had no control.

 

It’s probably best NOT to elect this man to a position as a school board member. The problem is, though, that others, who’d consider a run, especially if they are competent, will not receive the anointment of the present board’s power brokers.

 

This is because incompetence will NEVER willingly surround itself with competence. Otherwise the incompetence would stand out like zit in the middle of your forehead. So, much of the time, we’re stuck with the “baffle them with bullshit” candidates for whom a sufficient number of clueless voters will vote.

 

This has given ME pause to consider a run for some office. I’ve already begun my search for rousing bullshit comebacks to campaign questions. I dug into my files and found this one that a former colleague of mine sent me years ago. I’m thinking about asking her to be my campaign manager. Anyway, here it is.

 

“I fully realize that I have not succeeded in answering all of your questions… Indeed, I feel that I have not answered any of them completely. The answers I have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions, which only lead to more problems, some of which we weren’t even aware were problems.

 

To sum it all up… In some ways I feel we are as confused as ever, but I sincerely believe we are confused on a higher level, and about more important things!”

 

This gem, alone, could propel me to the top. Eat your hearts out Barrack, Hillary, Rudy, and Mitt. Just consider yourselves lucky that I didn’t think of this in ’06!

 

A candidate has to be prepared out there on the campaign trail. After all, what happens when it’s impossible to seed the audience with friends that will ask light-weight questions? You’re screwed. That’s what happens.

 

As the recent ’07 primary debates have proven, the other party may try to sabotage the proceedings by planting subversives without the debate moderators knowing about it. What does a candidate do then, hmmmm?

 

Believe me. It’s prudent to have an ample supply of “baffle them with bullshit” material at your disposal, especially if the stuff seems perceptively brilliant.

 

For example, suppose, hypothetically, a member of the audience were to ask, “Do you believe in UFOs?” Or, “What is your stance on the Supreme Court’s ruling relative to “Brown v. The Board of Education?” Or, even, “Yes or no, do you believe in evolution?”

 

Candidates shouldn’t pussy-foot around such issues. They need to take a firm position… stand up and be counted as it were. Since my motto is “BE PREPARED,” I’d snap back, instantly, with something both “surreptitiously direct” and “non-definitively committal”.

 

“Well,” I’d begin, “I kind of sort of think I might be leaning, at least a little, toward possibly agreeing in principle. However, if you MUST have a definitive answer IMMEDIATELY, than I must tell you that I am decidedly and definitely more positive than ‘maybe,’ but probably not quite as strong as ‘perhaps,’ so you can put me down as respecting the rights of those who differ with me but as holding whichever opinion most people hold and sympathizing with those who are undecided. And, I MEAN it!”

 

I should win in a landslide! Wolf Blitzer would eat this up. And, if I added something like; “There are no gays in this country, only straights living in sin,” I’d have Sean Hannity campaigning for me night and day.

 

See you next week. By the way, it has come to my attention that traffic is becoming more and more congested out there due to the looming holidays. Watch out for drivers who are “drunkenly sober,” not to mention those shoppers who are “sanely crazy.” So, watch yourselves.

 

Joseph Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. Copyright laws apply to all material on this site. Send your comments. Just click here.

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