2012: The Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to increasing transparency of government procedures, recently undertook a study analyzing the speech patterns of Congressional representatives and concluded that the average Congressperson speaks, on the House floor, at the level of a high-school sophomore:
In 2005, Congress spoke at an 11.5 grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. Now, it's 10.6. In other words, Congress dropped from talking like juniors to talking like sophomores. Flesch-Kincaid equates higher grade levels with longer sentences and words with more syllables.
For example, just one sentence from the member of Congress with the highest grade ranking, Rep. Dan Lungren, a Republican from California, goes on for 62 words. (That sentence: "This Justice Department, in my judgment, based on the experience I've had here in this Congress, 18 years, my years as the chief legal officer of the state of California and 35 or 40 years as a practicing attorney tells me that this administration has fundamentally failed in its obligation to attempt to faithfully carry out the laws of the United States.") Lungren's grade level during this session of Congress: 20. Overall since 1996: 16.
1835: In his examination of the U.S. government, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville posited that voters in the young nation hoped their elected officials would reach new levels of linguistic dexterity:
Electors are well assured beforehand that the Representative of their choice will be an orator; that he will speak often if he can, and that in case he if forced to refrain, he will strive at any rate to compress into his less frequent orations an inquiry into all the great questions of state, combined with a statement of all the petty grievances they have themselves to complain of; so that, if he be not able to come forward frequently, he should on each occasion prove what he is capable of doing; and that instead of perpetually lavishing his powers, he should occasionally condense them in a small compass, as to furnish a sort of complete and brilliant epitome of his constituents and of himself. On these terms they will vote for him in the next election.
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