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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Words Have Their Way…
Wednesday, October 1, 2008 • Posted October 1, 2008

It is “open season” on words. With core-crushing issues bombarding from all directions, words—the centerpiece of literary tools—are having their way with us.

They are flung about in “hit or miss” volleys, like quick-triggered neophytes on their first dove hunts. Words fly like pellets from shotguns boomed against autumn skies. Alas, most pellets miss their targets, falling harmlessly to earth.

Here comparisons with hunters end. Words, both printed and uttered in a harried political season, have specific targets. Words that miss can strike unintended targets that strike back, generating still more words….

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Politicians must be “wordsmiths” at one of history’s “squirmiest” times. The media won’t wait, so political aspirants don’t have time to consider impact, interpretation or context of their words dispatched at lecterns or quoted in print.

The late Oliver Wendell Holmes, a U. S. Supreme Court Justice for more than three decades, wrote opinions that covered virtually all aspects of federal law. When President Theodore Roosevelt’s appointee wasn’t zeroing in on legal issues, he waxed poetic. My, how he loved words!

Would that today’s political figures apply the wisdom of Justice Holmes. The jurist wrote: “Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”…

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Hey, that’s it! For months now, we in this land of spacious skies and amber waves of grain have been served multiple servings of uncarved words. (Indeed, some of them seem half-baked, too!)

Even before the stock market swoon, words dipped under a dime a dozen, with many tagged at “two cents’ worth.” Clearly, words are not to be avoided; they dominate billboards, radio/TV advertising, talk shows, newspapers and yard signs.

Politicians’ “messages” become endless echoes. Who among us cannot provide the final words of every political ad?...

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Hint: At a recent speaking engagement, my opening statement drew unexpected applause.

“I’m Don Newbury, and I approve this message, uh, introduction.”

Maybe the titter of laughter signaled an admission that the audience’s real hope was for an evening of comedy, devoid of political commentary….

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Little wonder that politicians need to be “Quick-draw McGraws.” With cameras and microphones thrust in their faces and reporters underfoot, they are easy marks. Their respites to quiet chambers, a la Justice Holmes, are rare indeed.

If the jurist lived today, reckon he could “carve words carefully” in our chaotic environment?

Likely not. In fact, he’d probably stay busy jotting down the quotes of others, like the late Texas Governor Ann Richards’ classic lines….

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One of her best came at the National Democratic Convention two decades ago.

The bell she rang for woman-kind provided a knell that continues to sound.

“If you give us the chance, we can perform,” she said. “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”…

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In a culture of sound bites peppered across crowded days, we can expect barrages of words, some of which turn out to be factual.

Then, there are “follow-up” words, with candidates trying to explain what they really meant to say. Not to be ignored are broadsides of “analysis” provided by media reps, and these drone on around the clock.

Yep, Holmes had it comparatively easy, when the media spotlight was far dimmer, reporters far fewer, and TV cameras were not yet on the scene—despite VP candidate Joe Biden’s claim. Shucks, only in Holmes’ later years did he deal with radio. He used far more megaphones than microphones….

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The longer I live, deeper grows my puzzlement as to why any person of reasonable intellect would want to be President.

The presidency in these difficult days reminds me of a definition of the word “basketball.” It’s said to be a sport that is improbable to coach and impossible to officiate.

And the President’s job grows ever tougher. Longtime Texas Congressman Jim Wright, who served with eight Presidents during his 35 years in Washington, spoke of the rows that Presidents must hoe. “I observed that each President aged physically three or four years for every year spent in that awesome office.”…

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Citizens are called upon to discern the important words dispensed and dispatch the rest.

We must remember that many of them are not well-carved, often served half raw.

Four words causing me most chagrin are these: “I’ll make sure that.”… I pray that whoever is elected will do just that. “Making sure” has never been harder to nail down than in these days when too many people want it now, even if it’s on credit. Much is coming due….

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Dr. Newbury is a speaker and writer in the Metroplex. He welcomes inquiries and comments. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com.

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