The problem with Democraticese

A verbose press release shows why Democrats are still struggling to provide an alternative on Iraq.

Published August 22, 2006 11:29AM (EDT)

Love him or hate him, everyone knows what President Bush thinks about the war in Iraq. He speaks in simple, declarative sentences. "Leaving before the job is done would be a disaster," he said at a press conference Monday. "We'll complete the mission in Iraq."

Many Democrats, by contrast, sound like a rhetorical car crash when it comes to the war. Take this press release, issued Monday by the office of Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. It is so bad that it makes Bush sound like Bill Clinton. It makes the writing of management consultants look like poetry. It makes the English language look like an M.C. Escher drawing.

The release begins with a promising headline, subject-verb-object, just like they teach in sixth grade. "Skelton Calls for New Strategy to Combat Terrorism." It is all downhill from there:

"We need a new national security strategy ... It should include an effort to create political conditions of stability in Iraq ... such a strategy must also address the transnational challenges at the root of global terrorism and should include many enlightened nations with the same goal ... Such a strategy would combine military capabilities with diplomatic and economic strategies in recognition that this confrontation is ultimately a battle of ideas. Without such a comprehensive vision jointly embraced by enlightened nations we will find ourselves where we are today, slogging it out without a light at the end of the tunnel."

There is no light at the end of this tunnel. There is no plan here. There are just a bunch of words, probably written by someone in Skelton's office who learned grammar by reading the Workers Vanguard or Lyndon LaRouche brochures. If the Democrats blow their big chance in the 2006 election, then this sort of messaging will be one of the reasons.

What would happen if Skelton had to say what he meant in 20 words or less, using simple Strunk & White English? What if he actually had to communicate what he thought instead of just sounding like he has a "new strategy"?

Maybe the writers and readers in War Room should take up the call. We can help translate Democaticese into a language that Americans can understand. How would you translate Skelton's press release into English? Let me start us off. I can think of at least three 20-word translations for that morass of empty verbiage.

"Bush has made Iraq a mess. If other nations help us, then we can win."

"The war sucks. I wish I knew what to do. I will use words like 'enlightened,' 'strategy' and 'transnational' instead."

"I need to respond to the Bush press conference, but I don't know what to say. Help me."

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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