Political talk dies in style

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By John Bartlit

Political talk has had its substance wither away for the sake of style. In this country, business is conducted the most clearly and quickly using the American standard style of talk, which is also known as the “straight” style.

In stark contrast, political exchanges today rely on ... are reduced to ... styles of metaphor, mimicry, sarcasm, sound bites and slogans. These popular styles would fail in business and they fail our country.

Worse yet, the styles shift weirdly. In a political exchange, one style intrudes on the next style where they mix up for a spell before styles flip again. Shifts come too fast for the ear to know what style is in play. How much is metaphor? How much is sarcasm? What is told as a slogan? Or a joke?

Parts of the talking from enemy sides are done in straight style. Yet, even the straight parts are lost in the crowd of talking styles.

Examples tell more.

Black lives matter” and “All lives matter”are two simple facts that are equally true when they are meant in the straight style. Now start every word with a capital letter and refashion the style as metaphor, mimicry, sarcasm or slogans. What happens?

The sharp shifts from straight meanings provoke enough dispute to spark a riot. Mixing styles in crowds spawns reasons to swap punches between sayers of Black Lives Matter and mimickers of the slogan.

A slogan is different from the thrust of its words. So, too, do words and phrases take on styles that give them a special currency in political talk. Some of the most used terms are “moron,” “crooked,” “deplorables,” “follow the money” and “above the law.” Such words can be said as metaphor, sarcasm or mimicry or can be used straight and each style calls for a reply in its own style.

Since the styles constantly shift, most responses misfire. The resulting conversation is well described as talking past each other. We all know how that feels. These are the means and extent of today’s fruitless political discourse.

People agree that political talk works very poorly for our nation; people further agree that their favored party is least at fault. People disagree chiefly in deciding which party’s talk is worse.

This Babel of political talk has the same effect that it had in the ancient city of Babel: The work stops. Remember history’s first lesson on the consequence of babble: The work stopped. Go online to the “Tower of Babel.”

The sudden shifting styles have been bred into political talk for so long the shifts now speed by invisibly. To hear the difference stand out, listen to the style used in other business we want to get done.

In the store to buy weekly farm supplies, tactics of mimicry, sarcasm and sound bites are not major features that flash by in order. Nor is the shifting routine used much in job interviews, a doctor’s office or a repair shop.

For these tasks, words stay straight, which rapidly completes good business. Business withers if styles switch in the blink between a question and its answer.

Another snippy way to contort a word’s meaning is to add the squiggly lines fore and aft that say “so-called” with a wink, wink. See the force of a line with no squiggles vs. with squiggles: The words of the leader were brutally true. The words of the “leader” were brutally “true.” Wink, wink. Squiggles can be written or can be gestured by both hands and a wink. Squiggles and winks meet our business needs as poorly as mimicry and sarcasm.

Just think if public politics were done more in the style of talking business. Who knows why people decided in the first place to treat politics so differently from how we do business.