Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Smugness, Thy Name is Bennett

Posted by metaphorical on 8 December 2006


In all my time in Washington I’ve never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority.

— William Bennett, National Review Online

This, from a man Joshua Green once dubbed “The Bookie of Virtue”? Bennett asks, “Who are these commissioners and what is their expertise in Iraq — or even foreign policy?” Um, Bill, did you not notice that James Baker, a few chairs down when you both sat at the Reagan Cabinet table, subsequently served as Secretary of State, while the closest you ever came to foreign policy was as drug czar?

But after a shaky start, Bennett stands tall and high on his hobby horse:

James Baker opened his thoughts today by saying Iraqis “have been liberated from the nightmare of a tyrannical order only to face the nightmare of brutal violence.” So much for any moral distinction between a terrorist sponsoring dictatorship and an embattled, weak, effort toward self-government. The distinction between permanent darkness and days of light and darkness both, and a hope for dawn was lost.

It’s clear that Bennett, never the master of his prose, has completely lost the morning’s battle with it. So let’s go to to Dr. Orwell, and see if we can’t get a diagnosis.

(From Politics and the English Language, of course:)

The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of WORDS chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of PHRASES tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.

Or, to put it more simply, Bill, you’re breaking Rule #1:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

I can’t say that on first blush that the Iraq Study Group looked like it went all the way when it came to telling truth to power, but watching the neocons flail like a prickle of porcupines thrown into the deep end of the pool (Rush Limbaugh, apparently, is calling it “The Iraq Surrender Group”) makes me wonder if maybe they did a decent job after all.

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One Response to “Smugness, Thy Name is Bennett”

  1. […] I’ve previously quoted Orwell’s rule #1, of the six rules that conclude the essay, is: (i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. […]

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