Our fellow Columbian Barton Swaim, in semi-defense of Marco Rubio’s recent robotic debate performance, has written a nice piece — published in The Washington Post — about why politicians do sound like machines so often.
As usual, Barton himself uses words in a decidedly human manner. I mean that in a good way:
Coverage of Rubio’s howler has, to my mind, been vastly overdone (the episode did not reflect poorly on his judgment, his character or even his abilities), but it touches on a suspicion most of us have entertained about our politicians: that they use words mindlessly. Probably all of us who follow politics sometimes feel that the whole business is nothing but drivel and fakery — that politicians are emitting vacuous jargon, their key phrases repeated again and again with apparently no concern for accuracy or feasibility or coherence….
This is what gives political discourse that distinctive air of unreality. Its language isn’t intended to persuade as you and I would try to persuade each other; it’s intended to convey impressions and project images and so arouse the sympathies of voters. The English philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s bleak description of politics (in a 1939 essay titled “The Claims of Politics”) captures the essence of the political sphere and its madcap discourse: “A limitation of view, which appears so clear and practical, but which amounts to little more than a mental fog, is inseparable from political activity. A mind fixed and callous to all subtle distinctions, emotional and intellectual habits become bogus from repetition and lack of examination, unreal loyalties, delusive aims, false significances are what political action involves. . . . The spiritual callousness involved in political action belongs to its character, and follows from the nature of what can be achieved politically.”…
Ah, there ya go again (to use one of my least favorite political catchphrases), Barton, just saying mechanically what we’ve all heard Michael Oakeshott say so many times… 🙂
Seriously, go read his piece.
Which reminds me. I’ve still got Clare Morris’ copy of Barton’s book, and I need to get it back to her ASAP. Dang: I’m going to see her at a meeting this evening, and I left it at home again…