by Cindy Hill

Stupid remarks by public officials — or anyone, really — are an extremely useful and important segment of public discourse. Why? They let you know what’s really going on in their heads.

A few years ago, when my state of Vermont was embroiled in debate over Civil Unions, anti-civil union individuals mounted a campaign to put ‘Take Back Vermont’ signs in the front yards of their homes and businesses. The chosen words were rather vague–I sent letters to the editor with a possible top ten interpretations of the slogan, the leading one of which was supporting a land claim by Vermont’s native Americans– but many people took deep offense to the message. My husband on the other hand, a many-generation old-school Vermonter, said he was very glad the signs were there. They let you know who you were dealing with, he said, noting that we could now avoid those businesses owned by individuals with this mindset.

My public speaking students on the first day of class yesterday wanted to know why they have to prepare notes and practice rather than speaking extemporaneously. I pointed to Akin’s now-notorious remark and said, That’s why. My students also immediately responded with, Yeah, but that’s what he thinks, so what’s wrong with that?

Darn good question. We should all be grateful for the crack in Akin’s public persona that allowed us all to see who he really is when he’s home, unpolished and unprepared but just speaking as himself. If all our politicians in this upcoming election season were so frank, and spoke what was on their minds instead of what they have drilled and practiced with highly-trained speech instructors, our democracy might well be in better shape.

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