“Clarity begins at home”

As a wordsmith, I appreciated the comments from James Taranto, today, about some of the incoherent criticism and commentary coming out about President Obama’s State of the Union speech and the surrounding political climate.  As a part of what is apparently my ongoing effort to give the WSJ free advertising, here is a portion of Mr. Taranto’s critique:

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[Excerpt from Taranto’s Best of the Web Today in the WSJ:]

Charles Blow of the New York Times is even more confused about Obama’s rhetoric. Blow, as we noted last week, attributed Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts to stupid angry voters, eight months after praising the intelligence of Northeastern voters, who would never elect a Republican. This week he returns to the subject and attempts to reframe his contempt for the voters as a criticism of the president’s rhetorical manner. He does not succeed completely:

Obama has to accept that today’s information environment is broad and shallow, and we now communicate in headline phrases, acerbic humor and ad hominem attacks. Sad but true. . . .

The president must communicate within the environment he inhabits, not the one he envisions. The next time he gives a speech, someone should tap him on the ankle and say, “Mr. President, we’re down here.

[Obama] seems to believe that if he does a better job of explaining his aggressive agenda, then he’ll win hearts and minds. It’s an honorable ambition, but it’s foolhardy. People want clear goals, clearly defined and clearly (and concisely) conveyed. They’re suspicious of complexity. . . .

But look at that first paragraph again. To Blow, doing “a better job of explaining” is the opposite of offering “clear goals, clearly defined and clearly (and concisely) conveyed.” In fact, if the purpose of an explanation is to explain, clear and concise conveyance is precisely what one is aiming for.

Blow’s description of what happened to ObamaCare is a great example of what not to do:

The president overreached, pushing a convoluted bill with a convoluted message. The Republican response: “Just say no.” They countered with a series of crisp attacks that shrouded the bill in a fog of confusion. Now it’s in danger, and the public may well blame the Democrats. People don’t care as much about process as they do about results.

At first glance, Blow seems to be saying something simple and banal. But if you read this paragraph carefully, you will see that it is actually nonsensical. According to Blow, “they”–by which presumably he means Republicans, although there is no plural noun to serve as antecedent–answered Obama’s sales pitch with “crisp attacks.” Crisp in this context is a synonym for clear. So the clear attacks served as an enshrouding fog of confusion. Moreover, if ObamaCare was “a convoluted bill with a convoluted message,” why would one need a fog, clear or not, to enshroud it in confusion?

Before Blow criticizes the president’s rhetoric again, he may want to reflect that clarity begins at home.

[End excerpt.]
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“Clarity begins at home.”  Brilliant.

You can read more, including the full entry that is excerpted above, here: “A Crisp Fog Blows In.” And I don’t read this with a “finger-pointing” attitude.  The excerpts highlighted by Taranto are, to be sure, the work of a professional, but when looking at the details one sees a sloppiness that really detracts from the message for a discerning reader (and I assume Mr. Blow believes he is writing for readers of the discerning variety).  I admit to similar mistakes, myself — getting so caught up in the “good stuff” of what I want to say that I fail to consider carefully whether or not my words are actually as coherent as I imagine them to be.  For this reason (among others), I appreciate good editors (as we have on the Tomorrow’s World team, but which I lack for this blog), and the element of sheer nonsense in Mr. Blow’s comments is a black mark for his editors, as well.

In Psalm 141:3, King David prays, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”  Ditto, for me, and I would ask that He throw in a guard for the tip of my pen and the typing of my fingers, as well.

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