Politicians' newspeak makes self-serving tripe sound like heart-rending confession.

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, April 21, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Linguistic Reasons I Can’t Vote for Any of the Candidates

I know, I'm even more of a prissy intellectual than elitist Barack Obama.

You see, I find his locutions annoying. Primary among these are introductory clauses ending in "is," quickly followed by the verb "is," as in "The fact (or the truth) of the matter is, is. . ." or "The reality is, is. . ." It's as though that clause is so meaningless, it is thrown into the sentence as a blob, which then requires a verb (you remember your English lessons - subject blob followed by a verb followed by an object?).

It's not just that this sentence is so bad syntactically (did they really let Obama get away with that at Harvard?). What bothers me is the function of the introductory clause, which is to claim: "This is the God's truth." It is the equivalent of "I swear on the bible" or "on my grandmother's headstone," or "Don't try to question what I'm saying."

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton. Hillary favors sticking the word "frankly" into every list she recites, particularly about her opponent's deficiencies.

One columnist claimed that the word "frankly" is always followed by a lie. No, it's more subtle and complex than that. People used to say frankly when they were about to admit something embarrassing about themselves, as in "Frankly, I botched the job," or "I have a criminal record."

Now frankly means "let me dish the dirt about the other guy," as in, "Frankly, he's a schnook." Of course, it is no longer possible for politicians to ever say they are less than perfect. In the modern campaign, when asked about their flaws, candidates typically say something like, "I feel the pain of voters too much" or "I'm too impatient about making the world a better place."

Thanks for sharing your sins, so. . . err. . . frankly! A passive public accepts candidate BS like this. The fact of the matter is, is I'm the only person in America who would vote for someone who said, "I've been having sex with this luscious blond because, frankly, I'm tired of my wife," or "I took money from a shady businessman because, frankly, my public office doesn't pay me enough to buy the mansion I deserve."

Which brings me to John McCain. David Letterman regularly features clips of President Bush stumbling over his words, comparing his gaffs with the eloquence of past presidential speeches.

I find John McCain, frankly, worse. He rarely says anything that remotely makes sense, or else that does anything but restate the question. Half the time, he doesn't even finish his thought, as in his comment on Hillary Clinton's drinking: "I did not see the clip of it but I certainly heard about it, and whatever makes Senator Clinton happy is ... is certainly, uh, certainly ...," McCain said with a broad smile, chuckling and raising his eyebrows.

I hear McCain is a ball of fire in private with reporters. He reminds me of a street smart student who becomes completely tongue-tied in front of the class because he doesn't believe he's smart enough to speak publicly. The only thing McCain can speak decisively about is bombing a Moslem nation. His intellectual and linguistic framework is that of a bomber squadron leader.

Of course, McCain's the only candidate willing to discuss lowering the drinking age to 18 (which he typically expresses as, "I'm just not sure - I'm torn over this one, because we ARE sending 18-year-olds off to defend our nation, but. . . .").

So I guess I'd vote for anyone with an ability to turn a phrase or put together whole sentences decisively expressing fresh ideas, someone like - Abraham Lincoln! But, frankly, I don't think he's going to run again.