Technology with attitude

Democrats, Language and the Modern Workforce


Here’s a snip from Barack Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday night:

That’s why I stand here tonight. Because for 232 years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women — students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.

Have you ever noticed that when Democrats list out “ordinary” Americans it always sounds like the list above? I must have heard variations of that grouping from every speaker at the Democratic convention. I understand that the Democrats brand themselves as the working man-and-woman’s party. But, really, have not doctors and lawyers contributed to this country? Do not writers and accountants and computer programmers also have hardships? Are there no chefs or copyeditors or pharmaceutical reps or graphic artists who may need a helping hand?

Language matters. And I think the Democrats’ language reveals that the party has not fully moved into the 21st Century. That’s not to say Republicans have (that’s a whole other issue), just that our modern workforce is far more diverse and our problems far less universal than Democrats pretend. By routinely speaking about specific groups, the Democrats risk shutting the party off to the many, many Americans who may not have the problems of farmers and teachers and factory workers, but who certainly have problems.

Do the Democrats know that? Do they have a plan for the rest of us too?

I liked that Obama spent a portion of his speech speaking about complicated issues where common ground is possible. Now, I want him to open up his rhetoric to include all working Americans and not just the party’s core constituencies. Some may say such rhetorical decisions really don’t matter. But I think they do.

I guarantee there were plenty of doctors and lawyers and MBAs in the audience in Denver. Why were they not in Obama’s speech too?