Imprecise language leads to bad politics

FBI agent Peter Strzok testifies before the the House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform during a hearing on “Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election,” on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 12, 2018.

Evan Vucci | AP

FBI agent Peter Strzok’s testimony last week before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees reminded me of that old warhorse of college freshman composition, “Politics and the English Language.”

In 1946, British writer George Orwell connected the disorder of contemporary politics with the decay of clear, expressive language. Referring to politics, Orwell said, “When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”

But if bad politics undermines clear language, bad writing and speaking make good politics increasingly elusive.

The English language, Orwell said, “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

In other words, imprecise language spawns imprecise thinking — and vice versa. This premise was clearly reflected in the contentious testimony before the House committees.

Strzok was accused by House Republicans of “bias,” based on emails that Strzok exchanged with his mistress expressing his distaste for presidential candidate Donald Trump.

When the emails came to light, Strzok was immediately dismissed from his role in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Strzok’s dismissal was too late.

“The text and emails may have been discovered in May of 2017, but the bias existed and was manifest a year and a half before that. … It wasn’t the discovery of texts that got him fired, it was the bias manifest in those texts that made him unfit to objectively and dispassionately investigate.”

Orwell would have objected to that…

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