Marcus Tullius Cicero, left, and John F. Kerry, on the right.
According to today’s Washington Post, the respective teams for the Bush and Kerry campaigns have agreed to a package of three presidential debates in the upcoming weeks, after months of delays on the part of President Bush’s re-election crew. According to the Post:
Matthew Dowd, the Bush-Cheney campaign’s chief strategist, said in an interview earlier this month that Kerry “is very formidable, and probably the best debater ever to run for president.” “I’m not joking,” Dowd added. “I think he’s better than Cicero,” the ancient Roman orator.
Dowd’s comparison to the classic orator of yesteryear initially comes off as quite a stretch, but upon closer examination, he may indeed have a point: both men have a certain notoriety for being, shall we say, excessively verbose. Witness Cicero’s thoughts on aging, from “On Old Age”:
“For the present I have resolved to dedicate to you an essay on Old Age. For from the burden of impending or at least advancing age, common to us both, I would do something to relieve us both though as to yourself I am fully aware that you support and will support it, as you do everything else, with calmness and philosophy. But directly I resolved to write on old age, you at once occurred to me as deserving a gift of which both of us might take advantage. To myself, indeed, the composition of this book has been so delightful, that it has not only wiped away all the disagreeables of old age, but has even made it luxurious and delightful too.”
Good luck making sense of that and translating those words into English from the current Latin incarnation that’s been reproduced above.
Now, let’s see how Kerry fares, with similar subject matter, in this quest for circumlocutory language (from the text of a speech given September 6 in Racine, West Virginia):
“At that convention in New York last week, George Bush actually promised the American people that after four years of failure, he now had a plan to get health care costs under control. Well, if you weren’t suspicious of a plan announced just two months before an election, you got a quick dose of reality the next day. George Bush socked seniors with a 17 percent increase in Medicare. What’s right about that? That’s the biggest increase in Medicare premiums in the history of the program. Raising Medicare costs — that’s W and that’s wrong. Wrong choices, wrong direction.
It’s time for a president who will lead America in a new direction.
At that convention in New York last week, George Bush said that he actually had a new idea. And you know what it was? The bad, old idea of privatizing social security — and cutting your benefits. That’s W and that’s wrong. Wrong choices, wrong direction. It’s time for a president who will lead America in a new direction.”
OK, so Kerry seems to repeat himself a bit more than his highly-esteemed counterpart, but we’ll give him points for clarity. Relative clarity, and relative to words that have aged a full two-thousand years. When compared with the pithy lines and snappy soundbites of the sitting President, however, Kerry does have a way of coming off a bit, well, wooden, if not stony-faced.
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