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A Decidedly Too Long Post about Why Kennedy’s “You Knows” Are a Problem

January 5, 2009

Actually the Caroline Kennedy for Senate story isn’t worth much attention. It has some relative entertainment value during slow news days as these, but the French Cowboy didn’t want to bother much with it. It was pretty obvious right from the beginning that the only reason Mme Kennedy is among the hopefuls to succeed Mme Clinton in the Senate is her family name. But with the counting of “you knows” in her speeches and the resulting numbers being so immensely high, I would like to add my two cents to the inevitable comparison between Kennedy and Sarah Palin.

Many who try to defend Kennedy’s “you know” tick (and, my gosh, is it annoying!) contend that this doesn’t mean that Kennedy isn’t smart. Eh ben, nobody’s saying that she isn’t smart. She went through the Ivy League education obligatory for people with a family background like hers and therefore can’t be as intellectually poor as her speaking style suggests. But what does it tell you of a person who is smart and educated but who sounds like a 15-year old even when speaking before cameras about her credentials to become a State Senator? If you aspired for a powerful and respected position how many “you knows” per sentence would you allow yourself? My point here is that Kennedy betrays her laziness when she doesn’t deem it necessary to discipline her speaking habits in order to make a good impression. Apparently, it has never been necessary in the past. Princess Kennedy has gotten everything for free and as a result takes everything for granted, including the prospect of getting offered a seat in the United States Senate. She knows that the main arguments against her are that she isn’t qualified and has never worked to become a politician. Is her “you know” tick part of her strategy to counter those arguments?

Another attempt do defend Kennedy is that it is actually nice to hear a politician (well, not yet, mind you) talk in such a “natural” way, often pairing this argument with the notion that it is better to have a politician who doesn’t sound very eloquent than one who speaks with a silver tongue but makes only empty promises. As to the first part of the argument: well, if I drew a Venn diagram with one circle for all the people who think that Kennedy’s “you knows” make her endearingly natural, and one circle for all those who held Mme Palin in derision for her “folksy” style, wouldn’t the overlapping section be easily larger than 50% of each circle? Wouldn’t the diagram look more like only one circle?

And as to the second part of the argument, the French Cowboy suggests to keep in mind that worse than both, a politician who can’t speak properly and one who speaks well but makes only empty promises, is a politician who cannot speak well and who makes only empty promises. Only because Kennedy doesn’t bother to give a good impression with her speech doesn’t mean that her promises are any more reliable than those of more eloquent contenders. So if Kennedy’s nonchalant way of expressing herself even while she attempts to present herself as a viable candidate for Senate makes you more inclined to believe her non-campaign promises, you better check yourself or be prepared for disappointments.

On the other side, some say that if Sarah Palin used as many “you knows” per minute as Kennedy, the number and intensity of critical voices would be much higher. That may well be, but it is missing the point. Never mind that Palin hasn’t been to Harvard or Columbia as Kennedy has and that this has triggered so much scorn from the very neutral, fact-reporting press that, I think, everyone could easily agree that the Governor would be entitled to talk like a rube, acknowledging that it would be just in accordance with her education.

Governor Palin has already walked a long and steep path in politics. She has fought and won in a number of elections without the advantage of having been born into a famous political family. Every political office she has received she received through having garnered more votes than her competitors, not because people associated her name with a political saga about heroes and villains with her being the fair princess. This is why the comparison between Palin’s and Kennedy’s way of speaking doesn’t lead to much. The Governor has a history of hard work and of success to speak for herself. The senatorial hopeful, on the other hand, has flagged her interest in political office for the first and only time when there was a chance of receiving it as a gift. This makes it imperative, one would assume, that she show some serious determination to at least catch up with more experienced candidates. And since, under current circumstances, there is little she can do than to publicly make promises to this effect – which she is doing – she could at least make those promises sound more credible by talking like an adult. Her failing to do so make it hard to believe that she regards the Senate seat as anything more than a neat accessory to her lifestyle.

I can’t believe this post has gotten so long. So much for “not worth much attention.”

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