We’re not out of the woods when it comes to pols’ cliches
Let’s be clear about this. Let’s be absolutely, crystal clear. The reality is that politicians use clichés. Don’t let the other side try every trick in the book to cloud the issue.
And can I say this: as with many decent, hard-working Australians, I find it understandable when politicians fall into using the same-old, same-old patterns of words, time and time again. Only politicians use short sentences. And they pause for effect. And they use rhetorical devices.
With all due respect, some politicians will categorically deny these allegations. Some will say this is a fishing expedition. Some will question the timing of these accusations. And of course, some will decline to comment, saying that it’s a private matter.
Don’t be fooled. Can they honestly tell you – hand on heart – that they haven’t fallen into cliché when they stay on message?
Can they honestly tell you they haven’t repeated themselves? And can they honestly tell you they don’t reiterate their point, say the same thing, in a slightly different way, restating an identical message, again and again, until the cows come home?
In no uncertain terms, the synergies between clichés and adjectivised words, and nouns that are verbified are obvious. Naturally, card-carrying politicos will talk about the hip-pocket nerve and views in the community. In this changing world, the jargon and clichés that are part and parcel of the politician’s journey are something we can rely on.
What many people don’t realise is this: it’s not one big conspiracy, concocted in shady backroom deals by faceless men. It’s plain to see that someone has simply been tasked with the job of assembling key messages and talking points for delivering the message and have resorted to tried-and-true, if second-best, or sub-optimal phrases.
Do they expect us to believe that real, ordinary Australians talk like that in everyday life, as a matter of course? Do they think most Australians ask and answer their own questions? Of course not. Yet politicians do.
As citizens, we need to take decisive action. We need to call them to account. We need to do whatever it takes and undertake all necessary measures to ensure that they know we recognise that their Greek oratory principle of actually making statements in threes.
And most of all, we need to let them know we will not stand idly by while they employ overworked idioms like working families or Aussie battlers, accuse each other of being out-of-touch or in bed with another politician or party, or repeat a Three Word Slogan.
Previously on The Punch: What do you remember about Wayne Swan’s first budget speech? We’ll give you a hint: working families.
But there is no silver bullet to fixing this issue; there is no magic wand. When it comes to political-speak, the fact of the matter is that solving this problem is a long and difficult process.
But we need to do everything in our power to get rid of this cancer in our political debate. It won’t be easy to eliminate clichés, but it is the right thing to do. It is the sensible course of action, for the good of the country.
There is no need for draconian measures. As a simple first step, politicians could show some leadership, take a stand on the issue and acknowledge the problem. Perhaps some politicians will make a courageous decision and admit to an error in judgement, particularly when mixing clichés. But they should not be dragged through the press like a political football while the media has a field day.
It is un-Australian. Rather, we can let these politicians accept responsibility for their words and move on, so the healing process can begin. Yes, we can.
Let’s cut to the chase. One possible solution to the wasted opportunities for creative wordplay may be to reintroduce long-forgotten words. Former Labor leader Kim Beazley’s boondoggle, myrmidom and spiflicate were rolled-gold verbiage. In the fullness of time, such words could add to our nation’s proud heritage of political lingo, and send a signal to everyday hard-working Australians that there is no hidden agenda behind the smoke and mirrors of political spin.
As for now, at this present moment in time, we are not out of the woods.
At the end of the day, politicians speak in clichés perhaps as a smokescreen for something else, but equally because we are familiar with them. But there is a danger in their use. What the other side won’t tell you or perhaps they fail to realise that clichés prompt listeners to use heuristics - mental short-cuts - to react to discussion of an issue.
While it may be a recipe for disaster, and action is needed to level the playing field, let me say this: it is not all bad. Often it is just someone’s manner of talking. Sometimes it is deliberate but innocuous padding. And sometimes it can provide the basis for a game.
I’d like to make one other point, if I may, and my point is this. Even in these uncertain times, before the one poll that counts, before the real test, we can move forward.
In due season, politicians may change their communication techniques, in an appropriate manner, as long as we have a clear vision for the future and do not flip-flop. The fact of the matter is that I intend to look at the detail, after which I revisit this matter at a later date. I will advise you of the outcome in due course.
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