Carroll Dale Short

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Spokespersons Making the Big Bucks for Nonsense

By Dale Short

You know that political discourse in this country has sunk pretty low when you wish that George C. Wallace was in office again.

Readers of a certain age will recall that 39 years ago, the Alabama governor soared in national opinion polls when he announced he was a third-party candidate for president.

His supporters' thinking was, “Sure, he's racist. But at least he's honest about it.”

At the time, political honesty was in almost as short a supply as it is today. While other candidates chose high-flown rhetoric, Wallace was fond of saying, “I believe in putting the hay down where the goats can get it.” Honesty, even if distasteful, was such a refreshing idea that voters by the millions jumped on his bandwagon.

I was reminded of the subject when the earthquake/tsunami tragedy in Japan continued to unfold and corporate “spokespersons” by the dozens took to the airwaves here in the U.S. to assure us that a disastrous nuclear-reactor meltdown was not a big deal, really, in the scope of things.

It's a good thing I'm not cynical, or I would suspect that most of these people aren't fully objective on the subject because they're millionaires on the payrolls of U.S. energy companies. Which they are.

I heard one lady interviewed on a radio news show who, with a straight face (I can only assume, this being radio), told the program's host that nuclear reactors are a great way to produce electricity, because “After all, nothing in our lives is one hundred percent safe.”

Ah. Now I see.

Wife: “Honey, the tires on our car don't have any tread left on them.”

Husband: “Hey, nothing in life is one hundred percent safe. I heard an expert say that on the radio.”

While the host was letting this declaration soak in, the spokes-lady added that we should build a lot more nuclear generating plants, as well as investing heavily in “clean coal technology.”

To the credit of host Diane Rehm, she politely pointed out, “No, that's an oxymoron. There's no such thing as 'clean' coal.”

The energy lady didn't miss a beat. “Well, we're looking very hard. But I'm not going to get into that with you, here.”

Nothing beats being specific.

Wife: “One of our tires just blew out, and now our car is upside down in a ditch!”

Husband: “Well, I'm looking very hard for a new one. But I'm not going to get into that with you, here.”

I would bet you my next paycheck that the energy lady earned more money for her 30 minutes of vocal methane than I earn in a whole year.

Which is nothing new.

The ancient Greeks invented a rhetorical style they called “Sophistry,” which basically meant saying nonsense in an appealing manner so that it seemed reasonable to audiences who didn't really analyze what they were hearing, or invoke that troublesome “logic” stuff.

Public debates suddenly became all the rage: a Sophist arguing against a Realist. Audiences paid big bucks to laugh and cheer the Sophists on. The most popular of these early equivalents of today's talk-show pontificators became very wealthy. Go figure.

There used to be an honest old guy named Will Rogers, who was once asked by reporters how he viewed a certain new American political development.

Rogers' only comment was, “Same old washing machine, same old clothes.”

So lately I've been looking really hard at that comment, and at many others. But I'm not going to get into that with you, here.

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