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PRUDEN: Loose-lipped pols pay a debt to plain language
Question of the Day
Sometimes the smartest among us should just shut up, and watch his language. Nobody gets the opportunity now, if he ever did, to take something back, to explain "context" or "clarify" what he was trying to say. It's all on somebody's tape.
The language of the street is plain English, but never "nuance." Nuance is for nerds and neophytes.
Politicians, like everyone else, are not immune to saying things that go a bit over the top. Politicians often get roaring drunk on their own words (often followed by a howling hangover). Barack Obama, energized by an applauding crowd, said there was no such thing as voter fraud, even as new findings from North Carolina revealed more than 30,000 suspected fraudsters. Some of them were dead (and still are).
Mike Huckabee told an early campaign crowd in New Hampshire that things have gotten so bad in America that life is sometimes better in North Korea. Mike is a Baptist preacher, and easily inspired, but how far over the top is that?
Mitt Romney tried talking in percentages in his race against Barack Obama, and paid for it. George H.W. Bush famously invited everyone to "read my lips" about no new taxes ever, and they did, and he lived to regret it. Everybody remembered.
Michael Dukakis blew a perfectly good race for president four years before that when Bernie Shaw of CNN, the moderator of the Bush-Dukakis presidential debate, asked him whether, if his wife were raped and murdered, would he favor "an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?" "The little Duke" replied with the classic liberal answer: "No, I don't. ... I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime."
The question begged for an answer with a little blood and guts on it, something like, "No, I don't. If it were left to me, I would have shot the guy in both knees and then wrung his neck, but we have laws to deal with criminals, and I don't think capital punishment deters rape and murder. I would want such a sleazebag to spend the rest of his life counting off the days in a miserable state prison, thinking about it." But that was a "nuanced" answer, and nuance, like a bad play on Broadway, is what closes on Saturday night. The Dukakis campaign closed on Saturday night, too.
Jeb Bush, the son of the man who dispatched the little Duke to dreamland with a deft right-hand punch, spread a little nuance the other day about immigration, another hot button of most (but by no means all) conservatives. His remarks were not spontaneous nor in answer to a question, but measured and carefully prepared, and they might well have spoiled whatever chance he had (a long shot) to win the presidential nomination in 2016.
He described illegal immigration as "an act of love," illegal but "not rising to a felony." He even said that his remark was "on tape," and was aware that he could not later invoke the excuse of "context."
But he did try to better explain what he meant a week later in a speech in Connecticut. "The simple fact is," he said, "there is no conflict between enforcing our laws, believing in the rule of law and having some sensitivity to the immigrant experience, which is part of who we are as a country."
Who but a grinch couldn't endorse that? Jeb makes a good case for legal immigration, and tugs at the heartstrings to make a case for illegal immigration. "It's an act of love," he said, "it's an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime, that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn't rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families."
But it does "rile people up" that amnesty advocates don't see the importance of securing the border first, of dealing with the tsunami on the Rio Grande before inviting the world in to overwhelm and change the nation already here. We're all the progeny of immigrants, and we have the responsibility of preserving what makes America so attractive to those who want to come here.
Jeb left the impression, with his "act of love," that he puts the first thing last. He obviously understands that now, hence his "extension of remarks." It may have cost him big, as they say in the streets. Nuance can be a killer.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Editor Emeritus — American journalist legend and Vietnam War author James Wesley Pruden, Jr. is Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times. Pruden’s first job in the newspaper business dates back to 1951 as a copyboy at the now defunct Arkansas Gazette where he later became a sportswriter and an assistant state editor. In 1982, he joined The Washington Times, four ...
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