Friday, 12 September 2008

Jargon obsession

One of the more annoying experiences of my high school career was my AP American History course—and not just because I scored a 5 (the maximum score) on the AP exam and was the senior class award winner in social studies, yet somehow only earned a B in the course. The annoying-before-I-saw-my-grade aspect was that often it seemed like we were learning the textbook authors’ pet names for certain events in American history, or overly cute quotations, in lieu of whatever substantive event was being described. (AP history being 15 years in my past, I can’t remember any specific examples alas.)

Which gets me to the mini-brou-ha-ha about Sarah Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson. Without wasting my time watching it, I’ll gladly concede the point that she is almost certainly as clueless about domestic and international politics as approximately 98.9% of the American public—which, if we were auditioning her for a slot on “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” would probably be less alarming than her current public audition to serve on the National Security Council.

That said, I can’t get too worked up about Palin’s apparent failure to recognize the term “Bush doctrine.” Indeed, most of the instances of the term a cursory Google search of uncovers come in questions from the media, mostly “gotcha” questions of the form “Is such-and-such an action consistent with the Bush doctrine?” By all means it is reasonable to inquire into Palin’s thoughts on how to combat al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, but a failure to recognize a cutesy inside-the-beltway label for a particular policy strikes me as rather less damning that whatever lack of substantive knowledge was displayed (again, given that I’m not going to waste any of my life watching the interview or reading the transcript).

Update: This argument is bolstered by the fact that Gibson apparently doesn’t know what the “Bush doctrine” is either. Oops.