Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Column on Dumbing Down Dr. Rice

Rice Dumbed Down

Tibor R. Machan

Several years ago I used to attend quite a few presentations at the
Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace?a Stanford University
think tank?by such famous and prominent conservative folks as Alexander
Solzhenitsyn, George P. Shultz, Martin Anderson, and Condoleezza Rice.
They were and some still are very active scholars there.

Dr. Rice, of course, was just confirmed as this country?s Secretary of
State. And what seems to be something worth contemplating is just how much
smarter Dr. Rice appeared when she gave her presentations at those Hoover
meetings than ever since she has joined the administration of George W.
Bush. Especially during her recent confirmation hearings, this scholar,
who could communicate complex ideas in excruciatingly accurate yet clear
terms, sounded like she had been deliberately coached to appear to be a
simpleton. I do not recall specifics now but it was remarkable how often
she resorted to slogans, banalities, clich├ęs and such while she was being

In her famous exchange with Senator Barbara Boxer, Dr. Rice spoke like a
not very smart high school student who is being scolded by a principal
instead of a serious specialist in this country?s foreign policy affairs.
And this suggests to me that there is now another trend in government that
is rather disturbing.

It seems that administration officials have an increasingly cynical view
of the citizenry. I don?t know if it is an accurate view but there is
little doubt in my mind that we are being addressed as if we all had
minimal IQs. Why would this be the case?

One hypothesis worth considering is that democracy has run completely
amuck and so everything that officials are expected to discuss and decide
on now has to be given very wide public airing. The public is in on it all
because they are doing everything for the public now, not just addressing
a special range of tasks.

Now at first inspection this may appear to be wonderful. The government
is responding to the demand that it disclose all of its deliberations with
the citizenry. No secrecy, nothing hidden. Sounds good.

But there is another possibility. Today it looks like the government is
so thoroughly involved in the lives of its citizens, there are so many
issues that it meddles in, that it needs to sooth the nerves of everyone
as it explains what it is doing and why. Government, in short, is not a
specialized institution, concerned with certain specific tasks. It is,
instead, quite literary becoming totalitarian, in the sense that the total
range of human affairs is now its concern.

In a democracy when this state affairs has been reached, nothing can be
discussed in the special vocabulary appropriate to the subject at hand.
Everything needs to be discussed in baby talk, since that is the only
common language that everyone can be expected to understand.

It looks like Dr. Rice was being told by the spin doctors in the Bush
administration to speak baby talk during her confirmation: ?Do not use big
words, do not use complex ideas, talk simple, dumb it down good. You are
talking to everyone all at once.?

In a system of government where officials have specific tasks?such as law
enforcement, dealing with foreign policy, exploring the way a constitution
ought to be applied to novel circumstances?there would, I believe, be no
fear of using the often complex language in which those matters need to be
discussed. Every specialty, after all, generates some complex
terminology?that?s one reason people go to colleges and universities, so
as to pick up that special language with which the difficult details of a
field are to be thought about and discussed.

But when everyone?s problems become the problems of government,
government officials aren?t allowed to use the special language of a given
concern but are more and more tempted to talk so as to make themselves
understood by just anyone. This, in turn, leads to the simplification of
complicated matters. But that way lies the road to obscuring issues,
resorting to language that lacks nuance and thus hides from us what really
is transpiring in various government departments.

I am not sure I like Dr. Rice dumbed down.

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