February 24, 2012 by Richard Drake
Candidates in the Republican Primary are described at various times with such terms as surging, withdrawing, forging ahead or making a comeback, in a chaotic race to the convention. What’s going on?
I used to joke that politics should be covered by sports writers, as that might bring some excitement to the manner of storytelling. But honestly? Many sports writers are as prone to use cliches — and drive them into the ground — as other journalists.
Over the past few years, we have seen the gradual militarization of the English language, especially where it pertains to political reporting.
There is a small part of me, the man who is nourished on clichés and rarely comes out to play with others, who wrings his hands when he hears news anchors speaking this way and worries about the militarization of the English language.
And in truth, I am getting combat fatigue from all the increased martial terms in our political discourse. There may be those who suspect that all of the above was just an excuse to use that line. Well, partly true.
Our use of military metaphors began long ago with our War on Poverty, followed by our War on Drugs, and various wars on whatever was deemed dangerous to our society. Well, there is a very serious war going on now, and we need to all gird our literary loins.
It’s the War on Sounding Too Smart. It’s spread by intellectual laziness, and group think mentality. I have read so much in the past few days about how the use of military metaphors in political speech hardens us as a people, but I’m just not sure that any of these writers should be allowed to wander the streets unescorted.
We also love our sports metaphors when it comes to political reporting.
Taking the shot, team player, going the distance, elections as horse races, politics is a contact sport. Body-blow, counter-punch, fancy footwork, low blows.
And then we get into religious metaphors in our political reporting. Those who harken unto science and take the word of people who study the earth are called “climate evangelists,” while those who would deny global warming but don’t want too sound overly dumb say that they are “agnostic.”
Metaphors — much like movie catch- phases — get picked up, and before you know it, they have spread out of control.
Our political culture has stolen so heavily from the cliches around us that creativity has been strangled not only from reporting, but from what most elected officials actually say. “Extreme” and awesome” are uttered by supposed adults so many times . . . kindness for- bids me from finishing this sentence.
I have long felt that every election year most political reporters should take a sabbatical, and let poets cover politics for a while. Most poets I know are both good writers, and politically aware. They would bring something dramatic and magical to the table (yeah, I just used a cliche) that we might all appreciate.
Writing that stays with you, long after you have finished reading it. Writing so good you have to show it to others, so it can inspire them. And who knows, maybe even the people they are writing about.