William Bennett

William Bennett’s remarks about how to
reduce the crime rate have landed him in controversy one more
time.

William Bennett’s remarks about how to reduce the crime rate have landed him in controversy one more time. I did a a Google search and the headlines are searing. I have no need to pile on. He’s dug himself into a very deep hole.

The noted media trainer T.J. Walker has an interesting take on Bennett’s comments. In an e-mail note Walker says Bennett was actually attempting to express an antiabortion position by making a complicated argument using “outrageous hyperbole.” But making such a statement leaves the speaker at the mercy of sound bites which can appear in quotes without the necessary context to give them full perspective.

This isn’t justification for Bennett’s remarks. In fact, Walker is unusually critical of Bennett, calling him a demagogue who makes millions of dollars writing books that call those who disagree with his politics immoral. Then he gambles away the millions playing video poker in Las Vegas, Walker writes.

But the sticking point is that it’s dangerous to use outrageous hyperbole to make a complex point, especially when the hyperbole confirms stereotypes your enemies already have about you. Walker says Bennett’s comment, in context, won’t be heard. Instead, his hyperbole, something he’s used before to characterize his political opponents, will be used to characterize him negatively.

The White House is distancing itself from Bennett’s remarks and at the time I’m writing this, I’ve read no one coming to his aid. It’s just too difficult to put the cat back in the bag after a meltdown like this.

Hyperbole is commonly used in the political dialogue today. Supreme Court justices have been compared to the KKK. Those concerned about prayer in public schools exaggerate the constitutional separation of church and state as a war on people of faith. Complex issues can’t be reduced to hyperbole and still communicate information accurately. But we’ve all read and heard hyperbole employed to make points in the highly charged shouting that passes for public discourse today.

Bennett’s dilemma should be a lesson that such language is not only harmful to the public dialogue, it’s also dangerous for the individual who speaks in a polarized and partisan environment. At the very least it should serve as a warning to tone down the hyperbole. But even better it could serve as a call to those who want to communicate effectively (and who doesn’t?) to think before they speak and consider the outcome of their remarks.

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