U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Chicago, responded last week to a report by the Sunlight Foundation, an organization seeking more transparency and accountability in government, that "Congress now speaks at almost a full grade level lower than it did just seven years ago." In wry defense of congressional speechifying, Quigley quoted Shakespeare and Homer Simpson, while also channeling the crisp speech of the man who previously held his seat, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Sunlight Foundation retorted in kind, pointing out that Quigley's statement still didn't reach above the high school level. Sunlight, probably not eager to fight with a man who regularly wields hockey sticks, did admit that it hadn't factored Quigley's "fancy" vocabulary into its rating, because "they are all just words with syllables." The exchange:
Congressional Record, May 30, 2012
Honoring Sunlight Foundation,
Mr. Quigley, of Illinois
"Mr. Speaker, I rise, as doth the golden orb pulled across the sky each day by the chariot of Apollo, to decry an ignominy perpetuated on this body by the captious Sunlight Foundation.
Mr. Speaker, the Sunlight Foundation says we talk dumb.
How can the House of Lincoln, Jefferson and Wilbur Mills suffer such excoriation?
I deem the Sunlight Foundation's findings fatuous. There has been no deliquescence of congressional discourse.
Speak we not of life, liberty and hockey?
In the words of Francois de La Rochefoucauld, who I believe was a defenseman for the original Canucks, "True eloquence consists in saying all that should be said, and that only."
So true. That is why as the elected arbiter of erudition from the 5th congressional district, I decry the foundation's obvious schadenfreude in our dictional dystopia.
Let me repeat that word again: schadenfreude, which captures the zeitgeist of this badinage.
That is not to say there have not been errors in eloquence. But soft! What F-bombs from Rahm's office breaks?
His monosyllabic vocabulary evoked images of the corporeal, the priapic and the unprintable.
Alas, our words may not always dance "trippingly on the tongue," as Hamlet encourages of his players in Act III of that eponymous work.
But nor do they need to. As Bertrand Russell said, "To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy."
And so we do our best in pursuit of that august goal.
As to the Sunlight Foundation's farcical fomentations, I leave you with the thoughts of one post-modern philosopher, known for his dialectical ruminations on the salubrious effects of fermented hops and barley.
"Facts are meaningless," notes Homer Simpson. "You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!"