It has seemed to me, in the present campaign season, that there is considerable indiscipline in candidates’ political speech. We might expect this out of citizen representatives, for whom public office is an additional duty and so are not schooled in words. However, for those for whom politics is an avocation, and so words are their stock in trade, this is less understandable and not at all acceptable. Some examples will illustrate.
Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said, on the subject of abortion by a woman made pregnant by a rape,
I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen [, and so I oppose abortion in such a circumstance].
That Democrats have chosen to misinterpret Mourdock as saying that God intended the rape itself is beside the point.
Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin made much the same mistake:
From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Joe Biden is well known for his speaking mistakes, one of the most recent of which is his claim to a predominantly black audience that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains.”
Then there’s Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama’s post-first debate loss claim that Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney won by lying and Obama’s continued steady drumbeat that Romney still is lying.
But these remarks have, in fact, jeopardized these men’s (re)election chances through their blatant outlandishness. The carelessness of this speech, by men who know better, goes beyond that, though; it denies us Americans of our right to know what’s truly in the minds of these men who claim to want to represent us.
Mourdock and Akins, for instance, would have been better served to leave aside the extraneous verbiage, apparently added solely for the purpose of being…cute. As The Washington Post put it,
[They] could not, of course, walk away from [their] deeply held view that abortion shouldn’t be lawful even in cases of rape. But [they] didn’t need to. [They] just needed to stop [their] theology lesson with the proposition that life is a gift from God.
Biden didn’t need to clown around with serious subjects. It would have been sufficient, in the example, for instance, to argue that Republican preference for less regulation would result in greater loss of individual freedom in dealings with Wall Street.
Obama’s drumbeat of “he lies” as his response to anyone who disagrees with him simply destroys the credibility of his own position through his evident reluctance to argue for that.
Indeed, these men’s ad hominem remarks, whether intended to be funny or serious, are foolish, and self-demeaning. As Charles Krauthammer said recently with his cynical tongue in his cheek, “Always tell the truth; it’s easier to memorize.”
Practically, stick to the subject. There are fewer opportunities for shooting yourself in the foot when you stay with what you know.