Thursday, September 15, 2011

Language and Tone Matter

Unlike most on the right, I enjoy reading the NY Times house conservative David Brooks. He is a true compassionate quasi-conservative, a moderate-conservative who has patiently filed down his rough edges and sharp corners and installed comfy, cushiony liberal-friendly padding.
Virtue begat prosperity, and the daughter killed the mother.  -- Cotton Mather
He comments intelligently and non-threateningly on Rick Perry’s pledge to work to make DC inconsequential:
The Republicans, and Rick Perry in particular, have a reasonably strong story to tell about decline. America became great, they explain, because its citizens possessed certain vigorous virtues: self-reliance, personal responsibility, industriousness and a passion for freedom.

But, over the years, government has grown and undermined these virtues. Wall Street financiers no longer have to behave prudently because they know government will bail them out. Middle-class families no longer have to practice thrift because they know they can use government to force future generations to pay for their retirements. Dads no longer have to marry the women they impregnate because government will step in and provide support.

Moreover, a growing government sucked resources away from the most productive parts of the economy — innovators, entrepreneurs and workers — and redirected it to the most politically connected parts. The byzantine tax code and regulatory state has clogged the arteries of American dynamism. ( NY Times)
It may surprise my fellow Right Blogistanis to hear me say that the GOP needs to learn to use such language. Yes, I love lashing out at our big feral government, but I’m not a politician. Tone is important. Progressives are rightly threatened by our angry speech, and we have a right to be angry. But politicians are hired to channel that anger into a cogent agenda that is palatable to the broadest base possible.

A prosperous nation with a pay-for-play government will inevitably attract rent seekers.  Another great point by Brooks:
Stable societies are breeding grounds for interest groups. Over time, these interest groups use government to establish sinecures for themselves, which gradually strangle the economy they are built on — like parasitic vines around a tree. (NY Times)
Can we all recognize that?

Can we rally around an effort to not destroy the entire government, but an effort to roll back the worst of its abuses? Can we also agree that human nature tends towards venality, selfishness and corruption?  Can we insist that government craft policies with the understanding that welfare deadbeats and Wall Street cheats will grab it all with both hands and gorge themselves when given half a chance?

I agree with Brooks’ assessment of the problem: Lagging business startups, slowing technological innovations, the dismal state of our educational system, and stubborn poverty and increased social stratification.

I strongly disagree with his solution: More big government. How can a man so smart reach such a tired solution so discredited by empirical evidence?


Anonymous said...

Most people don't know how to construct a logical argument let alone engage in eloquent rhetoric.

When you've got people like Bachmann and Palin who seeem to serve little more purpose than to channel and amplify the public's emotions of frustration and anger, rather than to urge them to contemplate why it is they believe what they believe.

But then again, why take political belief beyond what you "feel" inside when someone is constantly there telling you that you're right and justified? It's a good thing to ask people to be more reasoned and better spoken in their writing and speech, but most people lack the intellectual basis to accomplish that even if they tried.

OD357 said...

I think that Mr Brooks is saying that government's role is that of shaping and molding positive growth through the private sector. I think he's referring to government to stop being an enabler of current moral values. He see the government role as encouraging personal responsibility and repairing the social fabric.

I touched just a little on this on my Blog (shameless plug,

Z said...

"how can a man so smart..?" because he's more 'quasi' than really works in this situation.
i cringe watching him on Meet the Press; the supposed token Conservative with few Conservative stances.

I, for one, certainly don't want to destroy the entire gov't and I think most Conservatives might use rhetoric in that direction more to make a point than to actually support that.
I agree with Brooks' assessment of the problem, I have to admit.

But, every time I watch Meet the Press, which is less than I'd like to, he ALWAYS lets me down. There IS no true Conservative on the show and the guests are very often not the most sure, the most articulate; voila. check mate. party's over. Conservatives look weak. again.

I laughed out loud the first time I saw Rachel Maddow on ....think they'd EVER have Hannity or O'Reilly or any other rightwing opinionist? Ya, right. :-) Is she a regular? Have they ever had Coulter on or is the host not QUITE ready for prime time?

Anonymous said...

The art of speaking and debating for most people, does not come naturally. That is why we have so many lawyers representing us in Congress with their silver tongues? They learn the art of dodging and evading. If we insist that this is a requirement, that anyone else is "intellectually" inferior, we are in a sad state of affairs. How are we doing having so many lawyer types represnting us? Hmmm?? I will take the "intellectually" inferior type who will not see us out for a few pieces of Silver. I hope I have not been too emotional.

Speedy G said...

How can a man so smart reach such a tired solution so discredited by empirical evidence?

I'm w/Z on this one. He's the token Conservative that won't offend any Progressives. He's an empty token "symbol" of bipartisanship kept around merely for maintaining an appearance of impartiality.

"Yes, Jim, Conservatives agree with the Democrats on this one..."

Anonymous said...

An interesting post, Silver. Language and tone do matter. There has been a shortage of "statesmen" in both Parties for a long time. However, many people confuse eloquent rhetoric for intelligence, intellect and superiority of thought. And that just isn't the case. Some of the most inept people I have known in my long life were gifted with the silver tongue. they were capable of spewing the most beautiful gibberish for hours at a time.

Ducky's here said...

Did a growing government suck resources away from the ".com" bubble or the housing bubble?
Nope, it sucked resources away from the suckers' 401K. Raise your hands if you bought a NASDAQ index at 450.

What Bobo Brooks fails to mention while he's doing this Kabuki for Rollo is that the old bromides hide a seriously stunted vision. Budgie boy doesn't realize that the banking system has virtually disassociated itself from the greater economy.
It's off playing Ayn Rand while more traditional roles of banking languish. Pretty big mess.

Maybe for discussion another time: If you are not commenting on the role of popular culture in the decline you are missing the train.

innominatus said...

I volunteer to be the @#$(&* rowdy shoot-from-the-hip offensive right-wing kook that balances out the Brooks/Frum/Noonan triumvirate.

Anonymous said...

"Tone" matters a great deal.

Occasionally Ducky has something to say that's worth considering, but his perpetual tone of sneering sarcasm, supercilious dismissal and flippant contempt is so irksome that on short acquaintance most just categorize him as a crank, and don't bother reading his remarks.

Others, who shall remain nameless, may be well-meaning [though I've always suspected their "agreeable" manner is affected only to curry favor and support for their own blogging efforts], but a steady diet of fulsome praise, fervid, hyperbolic rhetoric and an exaggerated tone of earnestness so desperate that it sounds on the ragged edge of hysteria is enervating, practically begs for ridicule, and ultimately drives readers away to look elsewhere for a breath of fresh, un-perfumed, un-deodorized, un-filtered air.

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

Sorry, SilverFiddle, but I don't think characters of David Brookes' ilk and their tepid, non-committal, fence-straddling, I-wanna-be-everybody's-friend sort of rhetoric could possibly be helpful to anyone but David Brookes and others like him.

The David Brookes types of this world too closely resemble bi-sexuals. You can't really live on intimate terms with them, because you could never be sure they're actually making love to you -- and not someone you'd rather not have within a mile of your mattress, if you could help it.

What we need is a Winston Churchill -- someone who could deliver a withering blast whenever and wherever needed, but always with wit, style, power and purpose.

I don't like people who kiss up to anybody's ass for any reason. There's something morally and intellectually unsanitary about it.

~ FreeThinke

Trekkie4Ever said...

We really do need people from the GOP who know how to speak with great eloquence, intelligence and with clarity.

We just don't see that from any of our representatives. And I find that rather disheartening. Get back to the roots, speak from the heart and above all, don't tick off the constituents.

Ducky's here said...

What we need is a Winston Churchill -- someone who could deliver a withering blast whenever and wherever needed, but always with wit, style, power and purpose.


Yet you say you refuse to read my posts.
Stop being so equivocal.

Anonymous said...

I think we have compromised to much. Our society has become institutional progressive. When you are battling the institution you have to be in your face. Thomas Payne did not beat around the bush and neither should we.

Silverfiddle said...

Thomas Payne also almost lost his head in France...

I'm not calling for compromise, I'm merely pointing out how a softie like Brookes displays a gift of non-threatening rhetoric. He made the same point Perry did, but he made it so much better.

So it's not compromise or using weasel words to win people over, but rather stating your case in a way that is palatable to those middle-of-the-road voters who are critical to all elections.

Rob said...

I've gotta agree with Ducky... sure, we need representatives who can speak with clarity and eloquence, but we also need leaders who aren't afraid of saying - and meaning - substantial things. I'm tired of all of the mealy-mouthed pandering and placating.

For example, I'll give my vote to the the candidate who's got the cajones to commit to parking tanks on our southern border and eradicating the illegal immigration issue. Screw political correctness and touchy-feely human rights BS. The only reason we have a border problem is because we've tolerated it. We have all of the military resources to completely and permanently resolve the situation and we're just too damned soft to bring those to bear.

jez said...

SF: are you ready to start looking for consensus in preference to clarity? (or rather, supporting your politicians who do so?)
(I never considered them to be opposing aims, by the way. Almost above all else, I admire clarity.)

I reckon that this growing problem of emotional, anti-intellectual rhetoric is a natural result of decades of emphasising difference over consensus. I really don't think that the Democrats and the Republicans are diametrically opposed: I know for a fact that the political spectrum goes a lot further left than the Dems, and quite a bit further right than the GOP; but I'd have absolutely no inkling of that from listening to political speeches which have become devotedly and hopelessly adversarial.

Silverfiddle's recommendations will help.

Anonymous said...

Brief Biography of Thomas Paine

On January 29, 1737, Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, England. His father, a corseter, had grand visions for his son, but by the age of 12, Thomas had failed out of school. The young Paine began apprenticing for his father, but again, he failed. So, now age 19, Paine went to sea. This adventure didn't last too long, and by 1768 he found himself as an excise (tax) officer in England. Thomas didn't exactly excel at the role, getting discharged from his post twice in four years, but as an inkling of what was to come, he published The Case of the Officers of Excise (1772), arguing for a pay raise for officers. In 1774, by happenstance, he met Benjamin Franklin in London, who helped him emigrate to Philadelphia.

His career turned to journalism while in Philadelphia, and suddenly, Thomas Paine became very important. In 1776, he published Common Sense, a strong defense of American Independence from England. He traveled with the Continental Army and wasn't a success as a soldier, but he produced The Crisis (1776-83), which helped inspire the Army. This pamphlet was so popular that as a percentage of the population, it was read by or read to more people than today watch the Super Bowl.

But, instead of continuing to help the Revolutionary cause, he returned to Europe and pursued other ventures, including working on a smokeless candle and an iron bridge. In 1791-92, he wrote The Rights of Man in response to criticism of the French Revolution. This work caused Paine to be labeled an outlaw in England for his anti-monarchist views. He would have been arrested, but he fled for France to join the National Convention.

By 1793, he was imprisoned in France for not endorsing the execution of Louis XVI. During his imprisonment, he wrote and distributed the first part of what was to become his most famous work at the time, the anti-church text, The Age of Reason (1794-96). He was freed in 1794 (narrowly escaping execution) thanks to the efforts of James Monroe, then U.S. Minister to France.

Paine remained in France until 1802 when he returned to America on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson. Paine discovered that his contributions to the American Revolution had been all but eradicated due to his religious views.

Derided by the public and abandoned by his friends, he died on June 8, 1809 at the age of 72 in New York City.

Submitted by FeeThinke

Anonymous said...


You're so eager to snap, slap and scrap, you don't don't take time to read and comprehend the commentary you derogate.

In addition by comparing yourself favorably to Winston Churchill you demonstrate an appalling lack of good taste, modesty and good judgment.

~ FreeThinke

98ZJUSMC said...

I strongly disagree with his solution: More big government. How can a man so smart reach such a tired solution so discredited by empirical evidence?

Because he's not that smart.

Silverfiddle said...

98ZUSMC: Brooks is smart, he's just leans a little too far left.

Jez: I still prefer clarity over consensus.

Consensus and bipartisanship got us into this mess. Obama and the Pelosicrats gave us two years of the progressive steamroller. Time for a few years of unvarnished conservatism, good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise.

MathewK said...

The NYT has a token conservative, really, wow. I'm surprised those liberal bigots tolerate such things.