A recent report by a watchdog group suggested that congressional discourse has dropped to an all-time low. Two recent examples suggest otherwise.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who succeeded the often foul-mouthed Rahm Emanuel in the House, spoke Thursday about the recent Sunlight Foundation study that said lawmakers are speaking at a roughly 10th grade level, down from an 11th grade level six years ago, and far below the language levels of some of the nation’s most famous speeches. The study suggested that lawmakers are using simpler language — for better or worse — but still speaking at a grade level higher than average Americans.
With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Quigley spoke Thursday “to decry an ignominy perpetuated on this Body by the captious Sunlight Foundation.”
“I deem the Sunlight Foundation’s findings fatuous,” Quigley said in a House floor speech. “There has been no deliquescence of Congressional discourse.”
“Our words may not always dance ‘trippingly on the tongue,’ as Hamlet encourages of his players in Act III of that eponymous work,” he added later. “But nor do they need to. As Bertrand Russell said, ‘To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy.’”
In response, a Sunlight Foundation blogger wrote, “Consider me besotted, bemused, and bewitched by your rapier wit.”
In a statement entitled, “McCaskill Wishes Spelling Bee Semifinalists Fortuity: Senator obstreperously applauds the intrepidity of Jordan Hoffman and Gokul Venkatachalam at national spelling contest,” McCaskill (or the poor staffer tasked with the assignment) wrote that “I’m made incalculably exultant by the hard work and tenacity Jordan and Gokul showed in getting this far in the competition. It’s an impressive achievement, and I hope everyone in Missouri will join me in commending their spelling prowess.”
So there. At least some lawmakers can competently display an unyielding command of the English language. Or they need to devote their time to more paramount concerns.
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