Language is an essential component of law. No language no law at least not in a democracy. To use language respectfully, accurately and skillfully requires clear thinking, thoughtfulness and humility. Respect for law requires respect for language, respect for the meaning and power of words. We think how a person uses language can offer an insight into the speaker’s or writer’s ability and willingness to understand and to respect law.
We think there is a clear difference between how the Obama and McCain campaigns use language. We think the Obama campaign has shown a consistently respectful, skillful and accurate use of language. The McCain campaign has not. The Obama campaign has consistently displayed clear thinking, thoughtfulness and humility. The McCain campaign has not. The McCain campaign has used words like terrorist, socialist and liar. It has not repudiated calls for violence or false claims of sexual assault made by McCain – Palin supporters. The McCain campaign has treated language in the same way that gangs use guns.
The first victim of the McCain’s campaign disrespectful and dishonest use of language was John McCain. His “Straight Talk Express” is a dim memory. His reputation as a Maverick who spoke truth to power is gone. His campaign took the “Straight Talk Express” off the road and replaced the admirable Maverick with a defiant, impulsive, inconsistent, disorganized, angry and determined fighter. With the last eight years of Republican rule in mind and because of the McCain campaign’s wild and irresponsible use of language it is impossible to know what the Republican party stands for just as it is impossible to know what, how or even whether John McCain is currently thinking for himself rather than merely choosing between urgent calls for action. He is a proven fighter. He is not a proven thinker or a proven leader capable of using language responsibly to lead responsibly. (If the McCain campaign is a reflection of John McCain’s leadership skills, there is no reason to think he could lead the country and there are good reasons to believe he could not.) He has made plain his willingness and ability to fight and to act but that willingness and ability alone are of no comfort. On the contrary, they are cause for great concern.
Over the long course of the campaign Obama and his campaign have respected language, respected the political process and most importantly respected citizens, all citizens. Obama and his campaign have invited citizens to think about the campaign’s message, have expressed that message clearly and consistently precisely so that citizens can understand it and think about it and make an intelligent decision on the merits. By comparison the McCain campaign has tried, using language without regard to honesty or meaning, to motivate citizens to react, not to think but to react, to follow McCain’s example. The approach of the McCain campaign may yet prove successful. It is easier to be angry, fearful and certain than it is to listen and to think things through and think for oneself. In a sense this election is the most important test of the nation’s ability and willingness to think things through, to think beyond the slogans and charges and hype, to think about the election and its meaning in a way different from the ways urged by pundits, headlines and campaign ads. We think that at this time in the nation’s history there is something more important than political ideology and policy positions. We think the nation needs a president who is smart, thoughtful and articulate, a leader who has the ability and willingness to trust citizens enough to talk directly to them, to involve the American people in the process of governing to an extent unheard of – unimagined – in recent history. We think it is important to have a president who has the ability, if necessary, to speak to the American people bypassing Congress if Congress continues to be characterized by the partisan, divisive, short-sighted and selfish exercise of power that has characterized the last eight years.
In our view the McCain campaign has shown too little respect for language and has been characterized by disorder. To the extent that use of language is a measure of respect for law and order, the presidential campaign is an election about law and order. For us the choice on November 4th is clear.