Dog Language and Political Language

(I posted this on Photon Courier in 2004–it seems appropriate for the current political season)

When you talk to a dog, you don’t have to worry a lot about using syllogisms, complete sentences, good analogies, or crisply-argued chains of logic. What he’s looking for is keywords…particular words and short phrases…like “nice doggie” or “here” or, especially, “dinner.”

It strikes me that, increasingly, the way in which politicians address the American people is very similar. It’s enough to say the words that are supposed to elicit the conditioned responses…”jobs” or “health care” or “education.” There is increasingly little effort to specify exactly what cause-and-effect relationship will cause these good things to come to pass, and why one approach might be better than alternative approaches. This behavior is most noticeable among Democrats, but is by no means totally absent among Republicans.

12 thoughts on “Dog Language and Political Language”

  1. Most people have negligeable analytical ability. A majority of the electorate,it seems, has been infantilized by the MSM and the political class,( or am I giving the last two too much credit?) thinking that the government is responsible for their welfare. Given this, how can anyone expect ,except by accident, that they will elect leadership that that is honorable and wise?

  2. I have a greater faith in the American public, despite what I often see has dumb behavior. That said, catch phrases are used in advertising, public relations etc and are a part of our public discourse and not just the work of those who write speeches etc for political figures. Turn to a political figure who wrote his own stuff and you will see that Lincoln used “catch phrases” that were intended to remind listeners of that font of “dog-like” phrases: the bible.

  3. I didn’t mean to suggest that dog language is always effective…often, politicians (and businesspeople) would do better to make articulated arguments rather than just using catch phrases.

    But as Goethe said, “When ideas fail, words come in very handy.”

  4. Certainly, this is reflected in Britain, with the words intended to produce the largest drool among the electorate being “new initiatives”. The socialist government under the unelected Gordon Brown has outstripped even Tony Blair’s unlamented days in power with more “initiatives” than doggie bickies in a bag of Purina Puppy Chow.

    Health, education, welfare, the economy, funding of the military, Iraq, taxes, education, immigration, the latest cultural cringe to islam, the financing of elections … the new initiatives come pouring out of Gordon’s Puppy Chow bag and clattering onto the TV news in never-ending new shapes to tempt an electorate that is so fed-up with the “New” Labour project that they don’t even read the headlines any more.

    Meanwhile, the electorate sits with a biscuit balanced on its nose, whining uneasily, while Gordon Brown says, “Trust! Trust! Good doggie!”

  5. This is literally true. Focus groups are used to see what words and phrases cause the listener to have a positive response. Those words and phrases are then woven into speeches.

    The public is rationally ignorant of the details of politics. Let wonks and professionals and hobbyists get into the details. People have time to master one thing in life, usually, which is most often what they do for a living.

    The public is attuned to whether the party in power is or is not delivering the goods, however that is defined, and they throw out the party in power and let the other guys have a go at it if the incumbents are not delivering the goods.

    The idea that citizens should be sitting around smoking their pipes and sagely discussing the details of this or that policy proposal is delusional and wrongheaded.

    The public makes a determination about the basic moral and intellectual character of the candidates, and it makes a determination of who among the candidates on offer is least bad or has some more positive attributes than the other guy. (Our system was built on purpose so there are virtually always two and only two who matter.)

    Jurors don’t need to be experts on ballistics or whatever the experts are testifying about. Nor do they need to know other technical details most of the time. They need to hear all the witnesses and decide which side in the totality of its case has made the better case. Consumers do not need to know the thermodynamic principles underlying the design of more efficient engines. They need gross parameters, price, and some sense of the reliability of the seller. Voting behavior is similar.

    These kinds of decision-making processes work well in the aggregate better than any of the alternatives, such as appointing a dictator, or a panel of experts, or using random determination or allowing interested incumbents to make the decisions. Perfection is not achievable, and pretending it is only tells you someone is selling a can of snake oil.

    “Better than the very small set of possible alternatives” — That is all you can say for markets, juries, democracy and similar decentralized, non-expert decision-making methods. But that is a lot.

  6. You mayh not like the senator but your child-like name calling is beneath contempt for someon e who considers himself mature and educated. grow up.

  7. As a lifelong fan of the Sex Pistols, I am pretty irritated, Vince, that you are suggesting some equivalency between the loathesome would-be-tyrant Mrs. Clinton and punk rock legend Johnny Rotten. Mr. Rotten is a major cultural figures who made a very positive contribution to popular culture. It is wrong to link a person of his quality even jokingly with someone like Mrs. Clinton.

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