Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?
by Mark Thompson
We are all living through a season of unease these days regarding the language of politics,
a sense that something has gone wrong. We have, however, only a vague notion of why we find it all so disturbing. Mark Thompson, author of Enough Said, has some answers. Why does public language matter? Thompson argues that the character of our public language is not merely a symptom of deeper and more formative forces in our culture and politics.
He writes, “I want to place it at the heart of the causal nexus. As much as anything, our shared civic structures, our institutions and organizations, are living bodies of public language, and when it changes, so do they. The crisis in our politics is a crisis of political language.” He describes the salient danger that lies in the corruption of public language, “For some, the instrumentality, the leaching away of substance, the coarsening of expression are essentially cultural disappointments--evidence of some wider dumbing down and failure of seriousness. For me, the critical risk is not in the realm of culture but that of politics and,
in particular, democracy--its legitimacy, the competitive advantage it has historically conferred over other systems of government, and ultimately its sustainability.”
High stakes indeed.
The way Thompson treats this subject in Enough Said may well be unexpected. Our expectations, however, reveal something about the nature of the problem. We expect something reductive and tendentious these days when it comes to the discussion of issues of public importance. It may not only be something we expect, but a mode of discussion we have come to prefer. It makes things simpler, less intellectually taxing, imposes fewer civic burdens, and makes us less anxious. We can move on to the next thing. But Enough Said is written in the style of the personal essay, and shares that form's latitude. It is discursive and unhurried, well suited to the sophisticated exposition Thompson feels his subject needs. It does not slight context or complexity in tracing the problem’s origins or evade the difficulties of its amelioration.
|Sarah Palin's formulation of the phrase "death panels" during|
the debate over "Obamacare" is explored by Thompson as a prime
example of everything that has gone wrong in political speech.
|British Prime Minister Tony Blair called|
the British Press "the feral beast" and his
administration developed methods of spin
and information management to control it.
The authority of Enough Said--why the reader will pay attention and give some serious consideration to the arguments--has as much to do with the personal and biographical elements of this account as it does with the detail and intelligence of the analysis. As a journalist working for the BBC, as Director General of the BBC, and as Chief Executive Officer of the New York Times, Thompson has had a front row seat. He has been both a witness and a participant. He is able to support his points with examples that give context and dimension. Through a close examination of words and context he builds a remarkably resonant analysis. Enough Said is elegantly argued, dense in ideas, and displays a sophisticated comprehension of its subject. With one reading, you will miss too much, pass by too much you wanted to think about and think through. Readers will want to return to passages in Enough Said. But then, once again, that was the idea, to spark more sustained thought and a more considered--and considerate---discussion about the problems in our public language than might be achieved by the aphorism or sound bite.
|Aristotle's Rhetoric, written in the 4th |
Century B.C., is still a book for our times.