Even though the Constitution is written at college graduate level comprehension, a new study has found that ten Republican freshman speak at an 8th grade or lower level.
An analysis by the Sunlight Foundation has found that the speaking level of Congress as a whole has dropped by nearly a full grade level since 2005. Prior to 2005, Republicans spoke a slightly higher level than Democrats, but since the Democratic Party has had a share of power, Republicans have moved to the right and gotten less intellectual. In seven short years, Congress has gone from speaking at an eleventh grade level to a tenth grade level. If this continues, Congress will be back in junior high in less than 15 years.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows politics that the stridently anti-intellectual tea party Republicans would have the top fifteen lowest speaking levels. Not every member of the intellectual low ballers was new to Congress. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) has been in Congress for eleven years, and he speaks at a seventh grade level. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett has been in the House for fifteen years, and he also speaks at a seventh grade level.
Mostly though, the drag on the GOP’s verbosity has come from Tea Party freshman. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) led the way by speaking at a seventh grade level. Second was Rob Woodall (R-GA) who spoke at an eighth grade level. Third was Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who speaks at an 8.03 grade level. Fourth was former reality television star freshman Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI). Ten of the top 15 lowest speaking levels were Republican freshmen. Only three Democrats were present in the top 25, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI).
The study’s authors speculated that this dumbing down could be viewed as legislators trying to communicate more effectively with their constituents, which is likely in some cases, but more probably the drop in speaking ability is more directly related to the influence of the anti-intellectual right in the Republican Party. Some of the people who are at the top of this list could be very intelligent, but displaying too much intelligence is a political liability in today’s Republican Party. Just as Mitt Romney is doing in 2012, many Republican politicians are being forced to play dumb in front of the cameras.
The Republican Party rank and file has drummed the intellect out of their party. They are a believers only club, by believers I don’t mean religion, but a group of people who have substituted feelings for facts.
The problem is that these so called constitutional conservatives who have been elected since 2010 may not be intelligent enough to understand and interpret the constitution itself. The constitution is written a grade level of 17.8, which is college graduate/graduate school level, but Republicans have elected a slate of legislators that may comprehend at the seventh to eighth grade level. Perhaps so many tea party Republicans are constitutional strict constructionalists because they can’t comprehend the constitution at a higher intellectual level?
However, drawing intellectual conclusions based on speaking grade level is a tricky business. President Obama’s State of the Union addresses graded out at an eighth grade level, but this doesn’t mean that the Ivy League educated former constitutional law professor is not smart. Americans on average comprehend at an 8th-9th grade level. Using simpler words makes the message broader and easier to understand.
Simplicity is also why Republicans are able to win the message war on issues because they make simple emotional pleas to the American people, but with the rise of the anti-intellectual Republican Party a communication tactic has become an excuse to elect inexperienced intellectual lightweights. In today’s GOP the message is don’t think, just believe.
What may be a great strategy for getting elected has become a total disaster for Republican governance. The Sunlight research also discovered that the more partisan a member of Congress is, the lower their speaking grade level becomes. Both the extreme left and right had lower speaking levels than those in the middle.
Extreme partisanship, which is another form of substituting belief for fact, Republican anti-intellectual bias, and the tea party are all working together to dumb down the United States Congress, but when judging a member of Congress’s intellectual abilities it is best to look at why they say what they say, instead of relying on a crude artificial measure of speaking level. If a member of Congress is more apt to engage in partisan mud slinging and relies on the bible instead of the constitution for their policy beliefs, it is likely that they are an anti-intellectual who is legislating out of belief instead of fact.
Our system of governance was conceived by highly intelligent men, but a system can only be as smart as the people operating it, and right now there is a whole lot of operator error happening in Congress on a daily basis.