Thingish Things

Talking Point Tedium

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Apr• 15•11

The first time I saw talking points I was shocked by them.  I was 25 years old, and I suppose naïve, because my first inclination was to hide them down the back of my pants.  They struck me as illicit at worst and cheating at best – like Cliff notes in high school.  I didn’t want to be caught holding them.

Here were other people’s ideas, honed into pithy sentences that could be used in debates or in media appearances. You didn’t have to understand the subject matter to sound smart, you just had to have these three or five points memorized for recitation. I had no idea at the time how cynical and organized American politics could be.

Since that time, I’ve probably written 100,000 talking points for various candidates and committees, but I have never liked them.  They are useful, but unoriginal.  They will get you through an argument, but will not allow you to advance it or arrive at consensus with the other side.

I don’t know when talking points first emerged as a concept – they could go back 1,000 years for all I know – but their glory days almost assuredly were in the past decade when cable news networks began airing talking head shows. What the American public became subjected to watching was an endless volley of partisan talking points, political ping-pong matches with few spectacular points ever scored.

The thing that lights me up about the Tea Party rebels in Washington is that they don’t sound rehearsed in this way.  They sound passionate, slightly wild even.  To this ear trained for measured tones, this new sound is almost intoxicating in its honesty.

I am beginning to hear that honesty in established political leaders as well – certainly in Congressman Paul Ryan.  He never sounds restrained in his thinking; he calls things as he sees them and he has his own ideas.  So does Chris Christie.

I don’t know this for sure, and I have not seen it measured in polling, but my gut tells me that the American public is thirsting for this new sound, too.  They can hear the difference between propaganda and genuine thought, as clearly as Soviet citizens did in Solzhenitsyn.

I don’t know if that will keep people in office, though, or allow them to achieve higher office.  That is the big question I am struggling with.   Because talking points are designed not only to advance a political agenda, but to keep candidates out of hot water.  Where you speak freely in politics, you eventually get burned.

That said, I would venture to guess that the Republican candidate for President in 2012 will be the one not reading off his sleeve in debates.






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  1. Your Friend says:

    Our minds are aligned a bit today because I was thinking the same thing this morning. Of course, my thoughts had to do with how talking points have created the debt/deficit issue and that there actually is no such issue. I know you scoff at Paul Krugman, despite the fact that he’s a nobel prize winning economist, but there are plenty of non-partisan economists who pointed out the stupidity of the British austerity program more than a year ago. Now the truth is coming home to roost across the pond and they’re starting to regret that program. Here’s where I get really cynical. I don’t believe that anyone with half a brain (which, I suppose, rules out the Tea Party clan), actually believes the deficit is a problem, especially since the last time we had no deficit was 1835. I think this is only political and that the problems across the pond only reinforce the effectiveness of this as a political tactic. By cutting spending, the right will cause the economy to stall again and this will leave Obama vulnerable in 2012. That’s why I would be pursuing this policy if I were the right. Are you smart enough to convince me that is not why we are dealing with this issue right now?

  2. I must have no brain at all. I think the debt crisis is going to cause a catastrophe to my children’s generation. Catastrophe.

  3. Your Friend says:

    You’re in good company. You recall that list that I linked to recently? George Washington thought it would be the end of the union. Apparently, even great minds can be wrong every now and then.

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