May 8, 2017 2 min to read

Politics and Language Use

Category : Must-read

There’s no denying that President Obama is enormously popular, and it seems that every time he gives a speech, his popularity increases. I admit it. I like to hear him talk, too. Not only is he an excellent speaker, but he is good at explaining what he’s doing in a simple and sincere manner that’s very taking. Instead of spinning topics in obviously dishonest although often persuasive ways, he seems to find it more convincing to give it to us straight. But doesn’t this seem a little, well, unusual for a politician?

The central normative idea of politics, as I understand it, is the pursuit of justice. At various times and places across history, people have actually really believed this. Lately in American culture, however, justice seems to be significantly out of fashion as a political pursuit. The word ‘politics’, whether it refers to the literal government or the interactions among colleagues in an academic department, has come to be equated with manipulation, self-interest, and disregard for the big picture.

Apparently, the reason this kind of political maneuvering has become so widespread is because it works. So they say. But then why is President Obama, who has apparently engaged in very little of the negative politics of our day, so successful? Perhaps, I suggest, because he speaks to us as if he weren’t a politician. Perhaps politics and daily life do actually meet.

In everyday life, we tend to dislike and distrust people who overtly lie, manipulate, and make their choices strictly on the basis of self-interest. We would not, as a rule, hand over decision-making power to friends, family, or neighbors who act in these ways. Why is it that we don’t hold politicians to the same standard? To be honest, it beats me.

Perhaps part of it is that many of us like to see things as black and white, and in politics compromise is essential to getting things done. When politicians compromise, their black-and-white-seeing constituents may see them as giving in, giving up on ‘the truth’. Maybe this sets off a vicious cycle. Most of us don’t study things like rhetoric and logic anymore. We don’t notice the foolishness involved in dismissing opponents through ridicule, and we have forgotten that one aspect of irrationality is lack of perspective.

So do politics and daily life actually meet up somewhere? In my opinion, they always have and they always will. The values we evince in our daily lives we cannot help but look for in our politicians. I, for one, am still hoping that justice will find its place again at the heart of politics, and turn politics from a bad word to a good one.

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