In 2004, I wrote about dog language and political language:
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 litle 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.
Both Obama and McCain used political dog language in this campaign. Because of his superior oratorical skills, Obama could pull it off better. I think McCain would have been better served by cutting down on the dog language a bit and making more actual arguments on behalf of his policies. With regard to energy, for example, he spoke about the need for nuclear and wind and solar and all kinds of other sources, maybe including gerbil-powered treadmill generators. Which comes across as a grab-bag of ideas and probably also makes people think, “Well, with all those options, nuclear can’t be all that important.”
It would certainly have been possible for McCain to come up with a three or four sentence explanation of why wind and solar are not a complete answer…like, “When you want to wash your dishes at 9 PM, the sun may not be shining. When you want to run your heat pump on a snowy, icy day, the wind may not be blowing.” He would still have had an uphill battle, because wind and solar have been invested with a quasi-religious significance (as long as they stay theoretical), but would have done better than with the grab-bag approach. The same in other policy areas.