"Complaints about vacuous official rhetoric and the "dumbing-down" of presidential speeches, news conferences and interviews are standard fare. Lim found strong evidence to support those complaints, not just in his interviews with retired speechwriters but in the presidential texts themselves.
In what must have been a heroic effort, he applied standard techniques of content analysis to state papers of every president from Washington to the second Bush. His tool is something called the Flesch readability score — a measure of the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word. The higher the Flesch score, the simpler to get the meaning.
Applied to the annual State of the Union addresses, the average score has doubled from the first few presidents to the last few. Those "messages were pitched at a college level through most of the 18th and 19th centuries," Lim says. "They have now come down to an eighth-grade reading level." The same trend, but more pronounced, is found in inaugural addresses. Their average sentence length has dropped from 60 words to 20.
Simplification has its advantages, if it serves to increase public comprehension. But it comes with a huge risk: The complexity of real-world choices can be, and often is, lost." Broder
"Levelling" has become the Zeitgeist. Actually it has been the goal of many for a long, long time. The numbers in the study mentioned above illustrate that trend over centuries. "Elitist" has become a term of absolute condemnation. The downward drift in general education is now undeniable. College audiences are now so poorly informed about general culture that even the simplest references to popular literature, film, etc. are greeted by blank stares. Many audiences at college lectures are difficult to talk to because everything one says is "news to them."
A classics professor once told his class in my presence that there no longer existed the possibility of the creation of an American national epic poem, something like the Iliad, Aeneid, the "Divine Comedy," "John Brown’s Body," etc., because the declining cultural level and the lack of common values among the "American people" had destroyed the basis of wide comprehension and acceptance that would be needed for such an effort. That was fifty years ago. What would he think now?
Today, outside the elites of a few universities, we have little in the way of intellectual life in this country. We also have little in the way of political life. NBC’s Political Director just referred on MTP to the "Republican Brand." My. My. Marketing rules. pl