Complexity and nuance vs. 'lying, self-serving snakes'

By John Frary | Feb 24, 2010

Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), appearing on Fox 29 in Philadelphia, explains the problem:

"Frankly, most Americans I talk to are really concerned with real problems and real issues and understand them and realize they're a lot more complex than sometimes Sarah [Palin] makes them out to be."

Ted refers here to a foggy collective entity, known only to politicians, called "Most Americans I Talk To" (MAITT). Nobody really knows who these people are. They have no known address. No telephone number. No e-mail. No birth certificates or drivers' licenses.

All we can say for sure is that they agree with Ted. This is a universal quality of MAITTs. They all agree with the politicians they talk to, whether they are Democrats of Republicans.

The group known as "Most Americans Frary Talks To (MAFTT) see things a lot more simply than Ted's MAITTs. In their view, all problems sum up thus: Those "&%*#&%*# politicians are a pack of lying, self-serving snakes." For 32 years I was a harmless academic drudge. No more. Run for Congress just one time, and I'm now viewed by most of the patrons of West Farmington's Brickyard Café as a shady character of doubtful ethics. It's not fair, but it's the way things work.

There's also the group known as "Most Americans You Talk To" and then there's you. My advice is to disregard the MAITTs and MAFTTs; rely on your own sources.

If you composed a record of every time a politician or pundit used the words "nuance" and "complexity," you'd have a transcript 10 times the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica and infinitely more boring. The message you are meant to receive is this: "Government business is too complicated for you rubes to understand, so butt out."

Let's consider the complexity question in light of the average political campaign. How many make the slightest effort to educate the voters in the nuances and complexities of public issues? Come on; take away the vague and implausible promises, slogans, sound bites, action photos and blasts at the Enemy — whoever and whatever he or it may be — and what do you have left? See much nuance? Read up on campaign strategies discussed by pundits and political journalists and you discover a list of hackneyed tricks that scarcely rise to the level of an organ grinder's monkey.

"Move to the left in a Democratic primary. Move to the right in a
Republican primary. Move to the center in the general election. Name recognition above all else brings victory. Smile, smile, smile. Run focus interviews to identify words to which voters react positively and lard your speeches with them. Fashion your image to the public taste. Tell the voters that you love and care for them. Convince them that you are just like them."

Deduct all that and what have you got left? That's a straightforward question for you to answer. My opinion is obvious but irrelevant. It's up to you to find the complexity if you can. Ted knows the answer. He's been involved in Joe Biden's campaigns since 1976. Which reminds me, I didn't mention the importance of hair in political campaigns.

Here's my principal point. When you hear a politician yammering hackneyed cliches about nuance and complexity, the appropriate response is a loud, wet raspberry. That may be simplistic, but it is appropriate.

Professor John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia. and can be reached at: jfrary8070@aol.com.

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