The following appeared in the DC Examiner earlier this week:
House members are dumbing down their speeches, or they are just getting dumber themselves.
That's a conclusion suggested in a new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, which used an interesting website called Capitolwords.org to analyze the most popular words lawmakers utter on the Senate and House floor every day.
According to Sunlight, Congress speaks nearly a grade level lower than lawmakers did in 2005. Sunlight concluded that Congress speaks at the level of a mid-year high school sophomore. Back in 2005, lawmakers were speechifying like high school juniors
The report also calculates that the nation's most historical documents are far, far more sophisticated than any recent floor speech.
The U.S. Constitution, for instance, written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 grade level, and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level.
But President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address comes at an 11.2 grade level and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is at a 9.4 grade level.
First, a word in defense of our inarticulate elected officials. It's apples and oranges to compare speeches with written documents such as the Federalist Papers or the Declaration (the Constitution is an even worse example, since its primary function is as a legal document). And based on the Sunlight Foundation's research, it looks like they're still lapping the public at large:
Lawmakers of both parties still speak over the heads of the average American, who reads at between at 8th and 9th grade level.
It seems to me incontrovertible that over the history of our nation we've increasingly valued the democratic over the republican. We've instituted the direct election of senators, made the Electoral College essentially a bizarre quasi-ratification of the popular vote, and in places like California we're approximately 18 months away from deciding that the best method for determining the proper way to cook a roast is to put it to a popular referendum. In essence, we've done everything we can to promote the demotic in American life. The result: elected officials that share the idiom of people who pre-purchase tickets for the "Twilight" movies. Let me go on record now as saying that any public policy that arrests that downward spiral is fine by me.
By the way, one bit of fun for your Friday: Sunlight also has a page showing which SAT words are used most in congressional chambers and which members employ them the most often. An examination of the list shows that Patrick Leahy is the legislator most prone to using the word "asylum." Seems to me that there's some poetry in that fact.