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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Proof: Ann Romney Treats Americans Like 6th Graders

Listening to Ann Romney speak last night, I was amazed at how vapid and idiotic her talk was. Even by the low standards of today's politicians (and the even lower standards for their wives), her speech seemed particularly dumb. But, I thought, maybe I'm being politically biased here. So I decided to try a quasi-objective measure. I ran the full text of Ann Romney's speech through an online readability test.
Here was the result:
Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text: 
Flesch Kincaid Grade level: 6.22


Yes, Ann Romney's speech was aimed at the comprehension level of a sixth grader. But maybe this is something common to the spouses of presidential candidates, who are forced to dumb down what they have to say and how they say it. So I decided to check Michelle Obama's 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention:
Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text:
Flesch Kincaid Grade level: 10.60


So, Michelle Obama's speech was more than four grade levels more complex than Ann Romney's speech. Michelle Obama spoke to America at the level of advanced high school students; Ann Romney spoke to us like we were elementary school students. This is a huge disparity, unless you think the English language has a liberal bias.

But let's not blame Ann Romney for this. Her speech is thoroughly vetted by Republican handlers who understand their audience. And the low intellectual level of her speech was only slightly worse than the speech by Cindy McCain at the RNC in 2008:
Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text:
Flesch Kincaid Grade level: 6.58


But let's not blame Republican women for a problem that really afflicts the entire party and is driven by the men who run it. Here's the rating on John McCain's 2008 speech to the RNC:
Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text:
Flesch Kincaid Grade level: 7.13


By contrast, this was the rating for Barack Obama's 2008 DNC speech:
Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text:
Flesch Kincaid Grade level: 9.65


Although not as dramatic as the differences between their wives, there is still a two and a half grade level difference favoring the Democrat over the Republican.

Last year, a study by the Sunlight Foundation found that speeches in Congress had dropped by a grade level since 2005, mostly due to the influence of new Republicans in Congress.

Now, some caveats. I'm using the transcripts of prepared remarks, not what is actually said. (Ann Romney's painfully stupid pandering, “I love you, women,” wasn't in the prepared remarks, and so it doesn't get counted, although it certainly would have lowered the comprehension level further.) Readability tests aren't a complete measure of intellectual heft. It's certainly possible to express complex ideas with simple sentences, and sometimes complex words and sentences are used for obfuscation.

But these results reflect a trend I write about in my book, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason. Limbaugh and his ilk have led the dumbing-down of the Republican Party, pushing an anti-intellectual, anti-science agenda and sneering at educated, rational analysis. Limbaugh has not only made the conservative movement more dishonest, he's helped make it dumber.

And Ann Romney's speech last night (which Limbaugh, not surprisingly, praised strongly) reflects a Republican Party in a serious intellectual decline. When your goal is to treat American voters like they're sixth graders, it shows how the Republicans have given up on making rational, intellectual arguments for their policies.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

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