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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Glittering Generalities

Yes We Can. Says Barack Obama. I'm fighting for you. Says Hillary. Two Americas. Says Edwards.

Video of Barack Obama's speech in New Hampshire. It is so full of Glittering Generalities that I think I'm going to go blind. Of course, that is the point: to blind us, make us think with our emotions and not with our brains. This is how politicians get votes and how they keep the rank and file under control

Text: Part of the speech. The most obvious Glittering Generalities bolded.

We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we've been told that we're not ready, or that we shouldn't try, or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people.

Yes we can.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.

Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom through the darkest of nights. implied: if you don't vote for me you are against freedom and freeing the slaves you racists.

Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness. implied: if you vote for me you are a pioneer

Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land. implied: if you don't vote for me you are against progress, against the Sainted John F Kennedy and are against Martin Luther King Jr and therefore racists

Yes we can to justice and equality.

Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.

Yes we can heal this nation.

Yes we can repair this world.

Yes we can.

Aheeee. My eyes. I'm going blind!!

What? We can what? Nothing but Glittering Generalities and vague promises of WHAT? Give us some ideas... concrete ones of what changes you are proposing. Give us some ideas of what your goals are... real ones.... not glittering vague ones.

I'll be ever grateful to a high school Social Studies teacher, back when they actually taught us things and held us accountable for learning, for being introduced to the concept of "Glittering Generalities" and the idea that we should examine speeches for these so we can really understand what is happening to us when people we listen to politicians and others who would persuade us.

Glittering generalities are emotionally appealing words so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that they carry conviction without supporting information or reason. Such highly valued concepts attract general approval and acclaim. The appeal is to emotions such as love of country, home; desire for peace, freedom, glory, honor, etc. They ask for approval without examination of the reason. They are typically used by politicians and propagandists. The term may have originated with the Institute for Propaganda Analysis.

A glittering generality has two qualities:

It is vague
It has positive connotations

I'm not just picking on Barack. Just listen with a critical ear to Hillary, Romney, Huckabee, Guiliani, Edwards etc. The totality of what I have heard from all of these politicians, with the possible exception of Fred Thompson, consists of these Glittering Generalities. Possibly this is why people find Fred, boring. He is telling us the plain unvarnished truth without the glitz or bling bling.


  1. You are correct of course about the glittering generalities, but as a student and teacher of oral communication for something over forty years, my honest guess is that he does this so skilfully and with such a feeling of honesty, that my thought is that though he will not likely be elected president at this time (I certainly hope not) he will be elected president within the next ten to twenty years. Fascinating.

  2. Its a shame that schools have ceased to teach these types of critical listening skills. We are producing generations of students who are not challenged and haven't learned how to think for themselves.