Alvin Greene's catechism of political cliche
By Alexandra Petri
The Irish writer Brian O’Nolan said that a cliché “is a phrase that has become fossilized, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage… A sociological commentary could be compiled from these items of mortified language.”
Democratic South Carolina Senate candidate Alvin Greene has some seriously mortified language, and the commentary it offers on political speech is a bit unnerving.
What is most startling about Greene is not the more bizarre elements of his campaign but how weirdly normal it all is. He has simply done all the things you would do if you believed everything people said in stump speeches. In order to be a senator, all you need to do is go talk to some people called “constituents” and give a speech about moving our country into the 21st century and creating something called “jobs.” Constituents, whoever they are, seem to like this idea. The more jobs, the better. Also, they like things such as “moving forward” and “education” and “entitlement reform,” if you can keep the phrases straight and not make an idiot of yourself talking about “moving reform” and “entitlement education.” Although it makes about as much sense.
Usually, we ignore the fact that every candidate uses an identical script because we have confidence in their abilities to translate phrases such as “create new jobs” and “fix American youth” into action. Sure, everyone promises to commit to education, lower (or at least not raise) taxes, and swaddle you in blankets of government care. But usually, if you look hard enough on their websites, they have plans to do this.
So when someone like Greene, the surprise candidate with no job, no experience and no discernible plan, dons the emperor's new clothing of political speech, rambling about "jobs" and "education" and "justice," we have to step back and reevaluate the language itself. It would be easier if he said silly things such as, “If you support Green(e) initiatives, I’m the best possible candidate!” or “South Carolina needs to go Greene!” or made more references to creating action figures of himself as a jobs initiative. But instead of doing and saying the absurd things we might hope, he has actually stuck, more or less, to the script.
What is the script?
More than five decades ago, O’Nolan (under the pseudonym Myles Na Gopaleen) offered a “Catechism of Cliché.” Here are a few of his examples:
What does it behoove us to proclaim?
In what does it behoove us to proclaim our faith?
From what vertiginous eyrie does it behoove us to proclaim our faith in democracy?
From the house-tops.
At what time should we proclaim our faith in democracy from the house-tops?
Now, more than ever.
These ran more than 50 years ago. But judging from Alvin Greene’s most recent speech, not much has changed. His remarks on Sunday form their own catechism of today’s political cliché.
Where do America and South Carolina need to get?
Alvin Greene: Back to work.
This campaign is about moving America and South Carolina in what direction?
Alvin Greene: My campaign is about…moving South Carolina and America forward.
What can South Carolina not afford?
Alvin Greene: South Carolina cannot afford six more years of my opponent.
What is your opponent keeping?
Alvin Greene: This country hostage.
When is the time to implement alternative forms of energy such as solar, wind and methane?
Alvin Greene: Now is the time to implement alternative forms of energy such as solar, wind and methane.
What kind of jobs will this effort create?
Alvin Greene: This effort will create green jobs.
What kind of education do we need?
Alvin Greene: We need better education.
For whom do we need better education?
Alvin Greene: For our children.
Who needs to take a more active role in their children’s education?
Alvin Greene: Parents.
Especially parents of whom?
Alvin Greene: Especially parents of under-performing children.
Instead of doing less for our education, what ought we to be doing?
Alvin Greene: Instead of doing less for our education, we ought to be doing more.
And, finally, Who is the best candidate in the U.S. Senate race in South Carolina?
Alvin Greene: I’m the best candidate in the US Senate race here in South Carolina.
Not reassured? Listen to what Jim DeMint, the Republican incumbent, has to say on his website.
What is the true strength of America?
Jim DeMint: Strong families are the true strength of America.
I'm feeling a little mortified myself.
| July 19, 2010; 1:13 PM ET
Categories: Petri | Tags: Alexandra Petri
Save & Share: Previous: President Obama sounds like candidate Obama on unemployment
Next: Refudiate: Sarah Palin's new political language
Posted by: spamblocker | July 19, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: cmecyclist | July 19, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: SenecaSC | July 19, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: query0 | July 19, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: greenstheman | July 19, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: slatt321 | July 19, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: B2O2 | July 19, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bandcyuk | July 19, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: qqbDEyZW | July 19, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: PennyWisetheClown | July 19, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: YouCanPostThis | July 19, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: waterfrontproperty | July 20, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: bettenoir | July 20, 2010 12:42 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: daphne5 | July 20, 2010 1:01 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ginger470132 | July 20, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.