Congress Talk Pretty One Day

Congress lost theirs.<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Webster_collegiate_11.jpg">Jared</a>/Wikimedia Commons

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A recent study by the Sunlight Foundation found that Congress is a lot like Benjamin Button. But instead of reverse-aging, members of Congress are regressing in their ability to form complex sentences.

According to the analysis, members of the House and Senate currently speak at roughly a 10th grade level—almost a full grade lower than in 2005. Republicans come in at a 10.4 grade level average, while Democrats perform slightly better at a 10.8. (The study was based on algorithmic analysis—similar to methods used to chart Congressional buzzwords—of floor speeches delivered through April 25, 2012.)

Politico has a rundown:

The study also revealed that only 10 members of Congress have used at least 20 of Kaplan’s 100 most common SAT words so far in the current session of Congress, while just 92 members have used at least 10 of those words…[T]he U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 level, and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 level (an analysis by the University of Minnesota showed that President Barack Obama’s State of the Union this year had an 8th grade comprehension level – the third lowest score of any SOTU address since 1934).

Here’s are a couple of charts from the study:

Sunlight FoundationSunlight Foundation

On its surface, this will probably read like yet another cue to bash the stupidity of our much-derided Congress. But determining the substance or effectiveness of something based on its “grade level” isn’t an exact science. People might want to keep this fact in mind: 

You could plausibly argue that our nation’s rhetoric has been somewhat dumbed down over the past few years. But great politicians have always tried to speak in populist terms. It shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that elected officials don’t often channel Aaron Sorkin. If you want to mock the 112th Congress, you run the risk of looking silly if you chuckle at politicians’ word choices or the length of their speeches.

Instead, simply highlight their ideas.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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