I remember a political ad that ran in 1982 on local Alabama television station. It was paid for by a candidate for a seat on the council in Lee County, Alabama. This man’s courageous motto was “More Jobs. Less Crime.”
Here’s a fun exercise during this political season as you listen to news broadcasts and read newspapers and websites: each time you hear or read a statement by a candidate, ask yourself if you can seriously imagine that candidate’s opponent publicly expressing the opposite opinion. If you answer “no,” then that candidate has pronounced a mere platitude, a banality, and said nothing worthy of attention.
For example, I cannot imagine that the opponent of the above-mentioned candidate for a seat on the county council would have said “My esteemed opponent, Mr. _____ favors more jobs and less crime. I dissent! If elected, I will work for fewer jobs and more crime!”
Likewise for the many candidates who will no doubt audaciously proclaim their opposition to wasteful government spending and unfair tax breaks, or their support for a strong America and for better education for our children.
My guess is that well over half of what any candidate for political office says publicly is mere platitudes (as compared to substantive statements).
Of course, candidates sometimes do make substantive statements – for example, John Kerry’s insistence that, as President, he will work for drug-reimportation from Canada. Likewise for George Bush’s pledge that he will not reduce Social Security benefits for retirees and for those near retirement. You might agree or disagree with these positions, but such statements are substantive and not platitudinous.
But so, so much of candidates’ bombast and swagger are mere platitudes. One mark of successful candidates is their ability to pronounce platitudes in a tone of voice and with majestic body language that convey the impression that their platitudes are substantive, bold, and creative proclamations. It’s theater.