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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review June 30, 2008 / 27 Sivan 5768

Dumbing Down the Presidency

By David Broder


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | People campaign for the presidency by talking their heads off. By the time the winner reaches the White House, the habit is so ingrained that it is impossible to shake.


The result has been what professor Jeffrey Tulis of the University of Texas 21 years ago labeled "the rhetorical presidency," his term for an office in which the principal goal is to mobilize public opinion successfully enough to dominate dealings with Congress and even foreign powers. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were, for most of their tenures, masters of the art. George W. Bush had early success but has lost most of his audience and, with it, his sway.


Now, another scholar, Elvin T. Lim of Wesleyan University, has offered a revision of the Tulis theory that sheds fascinating and disturbing light on the torrent of communications that are unleashed by the "communicator in chief." In a slim book titled "The Anti-Intellectual Presidency," he argues that the real problem is not the increased quantity of words coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. but the sharp decline in content — especially of logical argument.


Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speechwriter who was one of 42 people interviewed by Lim, said that the result of this decline is that "the only organ to which no appeal is made these days — you might call it America's only understimulated organ — is the brain."


Complaints about vacuous official rhetoric and the "dumbing-down" of presidential speeches, news conferences and interviews are standard fare. Lim found strong evidence to support those complaints, not just in his interviews with retired speechwriters but in the presidential texts themselves.


In what must have been a heroic effort, he applied standard techniques of content analysis to state papers of every president from Washington to the second Bush. His tool is something called the Flesch readability score — a measure of the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word. The higher the Flesch score, the simpler to get the meaning.


Applied to the annual State of the Union addresses, the average score has doubled from the first few presidents to the last few. Those "messages were pitched at a college level through most of the 18th and 19th centuries," Lim says. "They have now come down to an eighth-grade reading level." The same trend, but more pronounced, is found in inaugural addresses. Their average sentence length has dropped from 60 words to 20.


Simplification has its advantages, if it serves to increase public comprehension. But it comes with a huge risk: The complexity of real-world choices can be, and often is, lost.


I remember my shock 50 years ago when I came to Washington from Bloomington, Ill., where I had been hearing a lot about the debate over federal aid to education. When I got here, I learned for the first time that the federal government had been subsidizing education for a century. The real debate was: How much subsidy, distributed how and under what regulations? All of that substance was missing in the speeches I had heard in Bloomington; much the same thing is happening now, when it comes to the No Child Left Behind program.


But the problem Lim sees is more than dumbing down. "As presidents have taken the rhetorical path of least resistance by serving up simplistic sentences to citizens, they have correspondingly offered an easily digestible substantive menu devoid of argument and infused with inspirational platitudes, partisan punch lines and emotional and human-interest appeals."


These trends, too, are charted by Lim. Basically what has happened, he shows, is that rather than seeking to persuade voters by arguing for their policies, presidents increasingly have sought to build trust by identifying themselves with those voters and their "common sense" view of the world. "Whereas all of the presidents through Woodrow Wilson appealed to 'common sense' just 11 times in their recorded papers, presidents since Wilson have done so more than 1,600 times," he writes.


Lim knows that the forces feeding the trends he describes will not easily be reversed. But he calls on politicians to think about their role as educators of the public and on the public to demand straight talk from those who would be president.

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Previously:

06/26/08: Voting's Neglected Scandal
06/23/08: Why don't we know what makes Obama tick?
06/19/08: Foreign Policy's Best Hope
06/16/08: Perot, Back On the Charts
06/16/08: The Many Gifts of Tim Russert
06/12/08: Why Hillary played the womyn card
06/08/08: Eclipsed by the Adventures of Hillary
06/02/08: Obama in retreat
06/02/08: Reality vs. the Mythmakers
05/29/08: Hamilton Jordan's Message to Obama
05/27/08: Let the Veepstakes Begin
05/19/08: The mental exercise of placing Obama in the Oval Office requires more imagination than did moving Reagan from the silver screen to Pennsylvania Ave.
05/15/08: For Obama, a Lost Moment
05/12/08: The price of delay
05/08/08: Phoniness and inevitability
05/05/08: Winning by destruction: An insider reveals the Hillary game plan
05/01/08: Candidates' high-mindedness is rooted in religiosity; but Hillary and McCain don't have hater as inspiration


© 2008, by WPWG

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