‘Tis the season for such dreck, but of course it’s always the season. No one pays much attention to George Orwell anymore, but he did a great service to us all in his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” Here, God bless him, is an excerpt:
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line”. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. . . . When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases—bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder—one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. . . .
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.
Bad political writing and boring political speeches are so prevalent today that we have come to take them for granted. Below are some recent specimens. Disclosure: I used to write political speeches, which I’d never want to reread at this juncture.
Margaret Hartmann in NY Mag (her vapid opening sentence in a piece about Trump’s nuclear documents): “Normal people probably shouldn’t insist the government’s allegations against them are a complete fabrication if they know it’s highly likely that the Feds have evidence that proves them wrong.”
Matt McManus in Aereo (a liberal socialist writing about bad left-wing writing): “As Thomas Piketty points out, one of the motivators behind the recent surge in right wing populism—itself a distinctly postmodern phenomenon—was a sense that that the left has cut itself off from its humble working class roots and evolved in a Brahminesque direction, spouting impenetrable wisdom about vaguely radical change on behalf of marginalized people in prose that requires ten solid years at graduate school to understand.”
President Biden’s Remarks at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Ceremony, Sept. 11, 2022: “And to all our service members and their families, our veterans, our Gold Star families, all the survivors and caregivers and loved ones who have sacrificed so much for our nation: We owe you. We owe you an incredible—an incredible debt, a debt that can never be repaid but will never fail to meet the sacred obligation to you to properly prepare and equip those that we send into harm’s way and care for those and their families when they come home—and to never, ever, ever forget. . . . When future generations come here to sit in the shade of the Maple trees that shelter the memorial and grown tall and strong with passing years, they will find the names of patriots.”
The President’s speeches have gotten more feisty since he decided to go after the MAGA Mafia. Still, one wishes that he could stop the cliché responses to events and speak the language of the people directly. As Orwell put it, “one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.”